Skip to main content

Full text of "Anatomy Of Paradise Hawaii And The Islands Of The South Seas"

See other formats




J. C. F U R N A S 

... a rustic world, sunshiny, lewd and cruel . . . 

Stevenson, Pan's Pipes 

Issued in cooperation with the 


Publishers 'New York 

Copyright, 1937, 1947, 1948, by j. c. FURNAS 
Copyright, 1946, 1947, by CURTIS PUBLISHING co. 


Manufactured in the United States of America 

This Is Helen's 



Individually to acknowledge the obligingness of all the peo- 
ple spotted from Boston to Melbourne who gave material help 
on this book would mean a list of names about the size of the 
subscribers' directory of the New Jersey Telephone Company. 
All are warmly, if anonymously, thanked. 

Formally I should acknowledge courtesies from the U. S. 
Department of State, the U. S. Commercial Company, the 
U. S. Navy, the U. S. Army Air Force, the Royal New Zea- 
land Air Force; from the American Geographical Society, Pan- 
American World Airways, the Union Steamship Company 
of .New Zealand, the Matson Navigation Company. For read- 
ing facilities and other help I am greatly indebted to the New 
York Public Library, the Princeton University Library, the 
Library of Congress, the Bishop Museum, the Honolulu Pub- 
lic Library, the Archives of Hawaii, the Carnegie Library of 
Suva, the Mitchell Library, the Auckland Public Library. 

None of the above organizations and institutions has any 
responsibility whatever for anything in the book. This project 
was self-bailing throughout. 

The credit for the photograph of Dr. Wilhelm Solf in the illustrated 
section is Tattersall, Apia. 




1 Misnamed Ocean 12 

2 Misunderstpod People 23 



1 In the Name of His Majesty 200 

2 The Glory That Was Grease 209 

3 The Good Frigate, Grab-bag 224 

4 Destiny's Helpers 244 

5 Fishers of Men 2 59 

6 Unsavory Characters 303 




1 Hurry, Hurry, Hurry ... 412 

2 Faya way's Children 425 



Guide to Pronunciation 490 

Sources Consulted 491 

Index 5 21 
Illustrations between 434 and 435 

The Institute of Pacific Relations is an unofficial and non- 
partisan body founded in 1925 to facilitate the scientific study 
of the peoples of the Pacific area. It is composed of National 
Councils in eleven countries besides the United States. 

The Institute as such and the National Councils of which 
it is composed are precluded from expressing an opinion on 
any aspect of national or international affairs. Opinions ex- 
pressed in this study are, therefore, those of the author. 






the number of books on the subject has probably reached five 
figures, an apology is indicated. Fortunately, it is easy to make. 
Few books on this area have been general reporting rather than 
rhapsody or scientific description. The reporter can include 
both fact and fancy the fancies are symptomatic of much that 
handicaps the South Seas, and Americans need to be well 
aware of all the facts. 1 Finally, material like this, so much of it 
little known to the general public, offers irresistible temptation 
to a writer. For our present and past relations with these islands 
involve happenings that would make the angels simultaneously 
laugh out loud, weep in angry compassion, and stamp their feet 
in vexation with the stupidity of all parties concerned. 

You may never have been nearer the South Seas than the 
screen of the neighborhood movie, and that is very far away in- 
deed, but chances arc high that your son or nephew has re- 

*TMs book will not cover, except sometimes incidentally, certain South 
Sea matters that have been overworked or that retain small current 
significance, such as: the "Bounty" story; the "mysteries" of Easter 

Island statues and stone rains in the Carolines; leprosy; military opera- 
tions of World War IL These omissions do not necessarily mean that 
these subjects were neglected in legwork; for instance, I have visited 
leper colonies and seen something of the next-to-final phase of the 
Pacific war. 


cently been there. His presence on a South Sea Island in uni- 
form meant and means that, for good or ill, the United States 
has become the political and military arbiter of this geographi- 
cal entity, loosely but workably bounded by a line from Hawaii 
to the Marianas, to New Zealand, to Easter Island. 

In population and resources the South Seas are a negligible 
part of the great Pacific world. Yet, as the connective tissue 
of the greatest of oceans, these chains and clumps of islands are 
crucial strategically. That is why so many Americans, Austral- 
ians, New Zealanders, Japanese, Fijians, Solomon Islanders, and 
heaven and hell now know who else, died capturing or recap- 
turing them. The huge, raw, American bases in New Cale- 
donia, Fiji, the New Hebrides, the Solomons, the Society 
Islands, have been abandoned or handed back to friendly pow- 
ers-in-charge. But the United States has held on in Micronesia, 
and the potential American presence will remain all over the 
Pacific as long as our power exceeds that of our Pacific neigh- 
bors and as long as we are vulnerable from the west a factor 
greatly increased in importance since Hiroshima. In these days 
the arm of neither France nor Britain is long or strong enough 
to guarantee whatever decisions are made as to the future 
status of the Pacific. Though nearer the scene, the British 
Dominions have too slim resources and population. 2 The 
United Nations is acting most gingerly regarding its potential 
function in the Islands, doing little more than recognize faits 
accomplis. This or that island may fly the tricolor, the South- 
ern Cross or the Union Jack, but the destiny of this stretch 
of salt water is determined by the world force implied in the 
-words Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, Tokio Bay. 

This is admitted by those able to speak without an eye to votes. Said 
that tcmpcrish but valuable palladium of South Seas whites, the Aus- 
tralian Pacific Islands Monthly, (September, 1946) : 'The white com- 
munities of the South Pacific have no hope of survival unless the United 
States assumes guardianship of the South Pacific. Without American 
help what could Australia do against the overwhelming masses of Asia? 
About as much as Australia did in 1942, when the Japanese avalanche 
was rolling southward. This is no reflection upon Australian courage or 
military prowess. The point is that in comparison with the human 
masses in Asia and in North America, Australia simply doesn't count." 


So the South Seas are Uncle Sam's baby. Power over an area 
implies responsibility for it, and responsibility makes under- 
standing highly advisable. 

Understanding has been made difficult for us because we 
have associated with the South Seas some of the most appeal- 
ing and most absurd fairy tales that ever one man told an- 
other. If we are to carry out our responsibilities in a fashion not 
too repugnant to our sense of fair play and political craftsman- 
ship, we must clear away the spun sugar from an actuality that 
is at once beautiful, small, and immeasurably significant. As an 
American citizen you are personally and directly answerable for 
the best interests of 80,000 brown Islanders in Micronesia, and 
indirectly so for those of a couple of million more assorted 
Islanders in the rest of the South Seas. 

During and after the recent war, inexperienced and insuffi- 
ciently briefed Navy officers were sent to govern Pacific islands. 
They usually showed good will but lacked a sense of reality; a 
sociologist who saw it all from the inside wrote: "Americans 
regard natives through the focus of the Hollywood movie pro- 
jector . . ." 8 

Back of that baffled officer on Koror or Manua stand you, 
who, whether you know it or not, hired him to do what he is 
supposed to be doing. Unless Americans comprehend better 
what problems there are like, even a good man will often find 
the merits of his work ignored by an ill-informed public or 
worse, misrepresented by busybodies of both good and ill will 

It is also advisable to try to correct the misapprehensions 
brought home by GIs, The boys were justly annoyed when 
Waikiki Beach, palm groves and coral islands turned out to be 
decidedly not as advertised, and they resented impressions back 
home that Pacific duty consisted of being shacked up with 
Dorothy Lamour in a terrestrial paradise full of ukuleles. Actu- 
ally, few soldiers or sailors saw much of Pacific natives. Those 
who did usually liked them cordially. But the average GI lack- 
ing opportunity for close contact, called them all "Gooks" 

Holm C, Usccm, "Social Reconstruction in Micronesia"; Far Eastern 
Survey, January 30, 1946. 


except the Guamanians, whom he liked on sight and disap- 
proved of them out loud. As a postwar citizen passing on his 
government's policies in the South Seas, he is too likely to 
spread the impression that this region, consisting principally 
of unhomelike pestholes teeming with subhuman Gooks, is 
hardly worth bothering about. The remedy is to know much 
more than the GI knew at the time about the actual who, 
where, when, and why of the South Seas. 

Such knowledge may bring disillusion to stay-at-homes. Yet 
this is no effort to debunk the South Seas in the brash manner 
of the 'twenties. No matter how much rock-happiness they in- 
duced in lonely men in garrison, these islands have a beauty im- 
possible to debunk. The charm of many of their inhabitants, 
the human validity of all, are beyond reach of carping. 

Our current relations out there are anomalous, perplexing, 
and inevitable. No single book could tell the whole, present or 
past. But here is what can be made out by one observer. Under 
the circumstances little of it can be useless. 

A particular usefulness, in fact, lies in the principles to be 
derived from acquaintance with the Islands. This area has been 
a most important laboratory for anthropology* or rather, in 
this connection, for the ethnological branch of anthropology. 
The ethnologist's day is now dawning very brightly indeed. 
Within our time, if he show himself sufficiently flexible and 
eclectic, he may well take over from the economist as the in- 
tellectual bellwether or, with bad luck, Judas goat of the 

That is as much hope as prediction. For,, unless the eth- 
nologist supersedes the economist in a humanizing shift away 
from impersonal formulae in basic human thinking, western 
man will get tragically little out of the forces now available for 
social decency. We are likely, of course, to forestall the neces- 
sity for this shift by blowing our world to hell with atomic 

*" Anthropologist" includes measurers of crania and students of primi- 
tive tongues as well as the individual here meant the student or tech- 
nical and social man working through description and analysis of 


energy or disintegrating it with bacterial warfare and atomic 
byproducts; but, until those threats materialize or dissipate, we 
must act on the assumption that our world will go on. And the 
ethnologist's approach is the best one to hand. 

What that approach is must wait for description until the 
reader has digested a regional sample of the kind of data from 
which ethnology works. This is no textbook, nor is the writer 
in any sense qualified as an ethnologist. But much of what fol- 
lows has been the raw material of ethnology, or offers horrible 
examples of what comes through misconceptions that eth- 
nology can correct, or describes situations for which ethnology, 
with its ancillary sciences, alone promises help. Weighing such 
material in his own right, the layman can express, as an out- 
sider, an unscientific conclusion, a human attitude, based on 
the possibility of using ethnology as a social tool. 

This nonprofessional moral is that it is impractical as well as 
hideous to deal with human persons impersonally; that to pa- 
tronize, sentimentalize about, or try to make a social digit of, 
any man in any cultural framework is the unforgivable sin 
against a nontheological Holy Ghost, So stated, it sounds 
formidable: all it actually means is that the South Seas op- 
posite number of Joe Doakes is as much of a person as Joe, 
though marvelously unlike him. To handle him on any other 
assumption makes him an emotional cripple likely to do him- 
self great damage, and to guarantee aching consciences for 
those responsible for him. 

The past and present troubles of the South Seas are an ex- 
cellent working model of what happens when such ideas arc 
absent. The East Indies, India, Palestine, are now the most 
conspicuous of the dismal dozens of other examples that could 
be adduced. All differ remarkably from the South Seas; their 
clinical histories are all special cases, probably even more com- 
plicated. But all are what they are today because of the same 
general order of strains, some of strictly internal origin, many 
arising out of contact with westerners ignorant of, or imper- 
fectly affected by, the above sentiments. It is always advisable 
to approach a complex matter by first taking a good look at a 
simpler one of similar import. 


In the process be warned of many things: misplaced humor, 
color prejudice, impatience with bungling and, particularly, un- 
due self-reproach. Consider what would have happened if the 
Polynesians, say, had been in a technological position to move 
in on western man. 

During early visits from white men South Sea Islanders were 
often unable to understand why they were so favored. Captain 
Finch, U.S.S. "Vincennes/' reported in 1829 an ingenious 
theory developed by the Marquesans, whose islands had re- 
cently been much frequented by whalers. Observing the greedi- 
ness with which white seamen approached local women, the 
wondering natives concluded that this white race must con- 
sist of men only and that, in order to enjoy heterosexual rela- 
tions, whites had to travel all the way to the Marquesas. In 
their minds no other circumstances could explain the frantic 
value that these strangers set on women and the persistence 
with which they kept coming back. 

Other theories were produced when the first whites were 
missionaries. The Rev. James Chalmers, courageous pioneer in 
New Guinea, wrote a friend: 

The natives thought at first that we had been compelled to 
leave our native land because of hunger . . . "Have you coco- 
nuts in your country?" "No." "Have you yams?" "No." "Have 
you breadfruit?" "No." "Have you sago?" "No." "Have you 
plenty of hoop iron and tomahawks?" "Yes, in great abun- 
idance." "We understand now why you have come. You have 
nothing to eat in Beritani, but you have plenty of tomahawks 
and hoop iron with which you can buy food." 5 

8 Richard Lovett, James Chalmers: His Autobiography and Letters: 
210-11. Cheap iron hatchets (usually called tomahawks in the trade, 
in analogy to such trade items in North America ) and iron barrel hoops 
broken into pieces convenient for working into adzes were often among 
the most popular early trade goods with South Sea peoples , who lacked 
metals. This theory would not have occurred so readily to a Polynesian, 
who did not have the Melanesian's traditional aptitude for ideas in- 
volving foreign supply of crucial items. 


The deduction is intelligent and not inaccurate. Britain actu- 
ally was and is still in the position of lacking sufficient home- 
raised food and importing provisions from overseas in ex- 
change for, among other things, manufactured hardware. 
Further data, of course, corrected mistakes. When missionaries 
arrived with wives, the Marquesans saw that after all whites 
did have women, of a sort; and Islanders taken to Europe met 
beef, potatoes and bakers' goods and acquired the impression 
that white men's foods were great luxuries. To this day canned 
corned beef, canned salmon, ship's biscuit and sugar seem 
gastronomic delights to the Islander. He eats sugar, in fact, 
with an avidity which our culture would label infantile the 
ration for Fijian labor in the local gold mines is half a pound 
per man per day. 

But all problems implicit in white intrusion were not so 
easily resolved. For the last century, in fact, the South Seas have 
known nothing but problems, and they will probably continue 
to do so. For example: the native was puzzled to find that, 
whereas all his people usually believed in and did the same 
things, some whites called missionaries behaved differently 
from, and hated and slandered, other whites called seamen and 
traders. Presently, looking around, he found whites insisting 
that, in some incomprehensible fashion, they had unimpeach- 
able rights of permanent possession to much of his people's 
better lands. Whites tried to bully him into working for them 
on these hijacked lands and, when that was not successful, 
hired or kidnapped outsiders to produce quantities of things 
sent away on shipscoconut oil, cotton, rock, sugar, pearl 
shell far more of each than anybody anywhere could con- 
ceivably use. These non-white alien laborers brought additional 
new ways of doing, which multiplied confusion. Presently came 
a third breed of white, the doctor or official, inclined to scold 
both the missionary and the seaman-trader, sometimes trying 
to check population- and culture-decay, but often doing more 
harm than good. And then came the romantic traveler, baffling 
the native by admiring and often paying for performances of 
the old dances that the missionary had discouraged as shame- 
ful ... 


The native did his best to digest all this. He often succeeded 
in mortising the white man's religion and ethics into his own 
with results that satisfy him, however they might distress the 
Y.M.C.A. The recent war, however, brought another tidal 
wave of emotional and physical displacement. Early Japanese 
victories damaged white prestige, and later white victories did 
not necessarily repair all the damage. Bulldozers scraped whole 
islands raw and whole populations were moved to strange 
places by both Japanese and whites. Native troops did signifi- 
cantly well at white-style warfare, sometimes better than the 
whites in bushfighting. Money in return for labor flooded many 
islands with curious economic consequences. 

World War II was a devastating lesson in the paradox that 
whites, who had suppressed native warfare as uncivilized, 
would fight like demons among themselves at a relative cost in 
lives and goods of which no Islander had ever dreamed. Confu- 
sion was back on the throne. 

Whites are now trying to put things back together, but the 
native has grounds for wondering if such help is anything to 
welcome. Here and there he says out loud that he wants more 
responsibility in whatever reconstruction is achieved. The 
speed with which he has bounced back from his recent trauma 
speaks well for his stability. But more responsibility that is 
a moot question. 

This sort of thing and hundreds of other aspects of a very- 
complicated worldare what we shall consider. 

So far, whether his intentions were good, bad or merely 
selfish, the white man in the South Seas has been little better 
than a nuisance in net effect. It was a great pity, if you care to 
look at it that way, that he ever came bothering the Islands to 
begin with. To heighten the futility of the affair, he got 
pathetically little economic good out of his intrusiveness. 
There is only one thing to be said for the story of how the 
whites arrived and what happened next and next and next 
down to our own time: The facts make it clear that matters 
could have gone no other way. 



Misnamed Ocean 

I heard the pulse of the besieging sea 
Throb far away all night. I heard the wind 
Fly crying and convulse tumultuous palms . . . 
Robert Louis Stevenson 



dull. The Pacific Ocean is physically the greatest thing on 
earth. Astronomers used to wonder if the whole bulk of the 
moon might not have been torn out to leave its great depths 
and distances. Up toward Alaska, down toward the Antarctic, 
it can be as gray and bitter as the North Atlantic. But in the 
region that concerns us, it shows deep silky blues and greens. 
The tepid salt water stretches apparently boundlessly all 
through the South Seas, rich with vegetable and animal life 
that make coral development possible. It builds land here and 
tears it away there. It feeds birds that carry the seeds to 
plant new green life on new islands. Other stretches of ocean 
are beautiful, but no other is so lavish, and none gives the sun 
such extensive opportunity to beguile the human eye with 
color in motion. 

Like human beauty, however, this is based on details dis- 
tasteful to the queasy-minded. A poet finding lyric inspiration 
in the very words "coral reef" must disregard the fact that 
coral reef exposed by the tide smells like a distant decayed 
lobster and looks like a pocked ruin of dishonestly com- 
pounded concrete. Its sharp projections slashing white men's 
soft feet have killed many with septicemia; bits of it lying 



waterworn on the beach precisely resemble battered old bones; 
the strange fish in its pools are often savagely poisonous. 

It is notorious as well that, in calling this the Pacific Ocean, 
Magellan was greatly misled by a fine-weather westward pas- 
sage. Even in the mild South Seas storms can be formidable. 
This ocean is a lady with a tigerish taste for tempting human 
beings to settle on atolls and then unleashing hurricanes that 
annihilate everything people, houses, trees, even the coral 
lumps of the exterior beach. A few generations or centuries 
later she may repeat the performance with equal relish. Con- 
templating the inhabitants of his first atoll in 1769, Bougain- 
ville wrote: 

"I admire their courage if they live without uneasiness on these 
strips of sand which a tempest can bury under water in the 
winking of an eye." Voyage autour du monde . . . II, 11. 

While bowling westward, Magellan's crew was starving be- 
cause the island-rich Pacific flightily refused them any landfall 
promising food. It is no accident that so many famous small- 
boat voyages made by castaways occurred in this ocean, often 
in the idyllic South Seas themselves. Distance and chance are 
cruel hereabouts, requiring high sagacity and endurance in 
emergencies. The Pacific was made not for men, but for far- 
ranging whales and seabirds. 

A good map gives most of the significant details. Others can 
be tucked into the text as we go along. But even the best maps 
omit some important things, or give false impressions on points 
that cartography was never meant to cope with. 

The term "South Seas" itself needs comment, for instance. 
As used here, it means a lopsidedly diamond-shaped region 
with the Samoa group near its center of balance. Its vague 
boundaries are far from the coasts of all continents, sub-con- 
tinents, and most islands unmistakably attached to a continent, 
including only those islands primarily dominated by the cir- 
cumambient presence of the Pacific herself. 1 This area happens 

Tor comparison, see Stevenson, In the South Seas, 168; Keesing, The 
South Seas in the Modern World, 3. 


to include the climates, flora and peoples associated in the 
popular mind with "the South Seas/' Palms, cannibals, mis- 
sionaries, coral reefs, grass skirts, bare-bosomed girls, gin- 
rascally traders, volcanoes, pearls and sharks, are all there 
somewhere, or were there once. Many of them also do or did 
exist in the Philippines, the East Indies and New Guinea; but 
these fascinating places are left out because their scale is too 
large, they are too close to Asia, or their polity is too formal, 2 
to answer the South Seas tradition. New Zealand is included, 
not because she has coral reefs or palms being too far south- 
but because her aborigines were good Polynesians, the tradi- 
tional denizens of the South Seas. Barring New Zealand and a 
few scraps of land slightly too far south, such as Rapa and 
Easter Island., the whole South Seas, as the term is used here, 
lies tidily between Cancer and Capricorn. 

The phrase "South Seas" has a history. It originated in a 
noted misconception. The isthmus of Panama so twists that 
Balboa first saw the Pacific south of him, whereas two-fifths of 
it actually lay to the north. From then on "the South Sea" 
meant the Pacific to most men mentioning it. Even after it was 
known up to latitude 40 N., British privateers and buccaneers 
raiding western South America or cruising after the Manila 
galleon spoke of "our voyage to the South Sea." (Such im- 
mortality of outmoded names is familiar: New Yorkers call the 
Hudson the North River a label unknown on any recent 
map,) Then, with the rise of romancing about glamorous 
Pacific Isles, "South Seas" contracted and grew sticky conno- 
tations. "Pacific" was then used to describe Balboa's discovery, 
while the earlier phrase suffered apotheosis. "Going out to the 
Pacific" means one thing to the hearer, "going out to the South 
Seas" quite another. One is geography and one poetry, or at 
least a stab at it. 

Local names also trip up the new arrival in the Pacific, where 

Skipping New Guinea cuts the subcontinental Melanesian away from 
his Island cousin, which is bad. But there are some limits to what even 
the boldest writer can hope to cover intelligently. New Guinea is re- 
ferred to in this book only when it offers indispensable illustration. 


islands, individually and by groups, have as many aliases as con- 
fidence men. Early discoverers, considering native names mean- 
ingless and unwieldy, gave their finds more familiar titles of 
convenience or prestige. It is confusing that the Friendly Is- 
lands means Tonga, the Navigator Isles Samoa, the Sandwich 
Islands Hawaii; that Kusaie (Carolines) was once Strong's Is- 
land and Chain Island (Tuamotu) is Anaa. Duplication is 
bewildering: Melanesia has a Sandwich Island; and the name 
of Lord Howe, whom late eighteenth century British captains 
revered, appears four times on Pacific charts. During their 
Johnny-come-lately enterprise in the Pacific, the Germans re- 
christened parts of Melanesia Neu-Pomnnern, Neu-Mecklen- 
burg and so forth. Generally the earlier the discovery, the worse 
the confusion. Until the middle of the last century European 
names predominated on maps and logs; after that, for no as- 
signable reason, native names began to crowd out the alien 
ones. Some still stick, however, such as those of the Gilberts 
and the New Hebrides. 

The westerners followed no system in giving names. Pit- 
cairn's Island was called after the midshipman who first sighted 
it; the Society Islands after the Royal Society, sponsors of 
Cook's first voyage; the Marquesas after the wife of the noble 
patron of Mendana's voyages; and Savage Island (Niue) after 
the observed nature of the inhabitants. It is a pity that some of 
the better efforts disappeared. La Nouvelle Cyth&re is excel- 
lent for Tahiti, as Bougainville saw it through an erotic mist, 
and New Zealand would be much better off as Ao-Tea-Roa, the 
Long White Cloud, a bit of Polynesian poetry inspired by the 
sight of her snowcapped ranges from far out at sea. 

Spelling is another vicious hazard. In the early days missions 
had not yet standardized the transliteration of South Sea 
tongues, and it takes some ingenuity to make out that what a 
conscientious sailorman spelled Bonaby is Ponape (Carolines) 
and Whytootackee Aitutaki (Cooks). A missionary records 
fifteen early ways of spelling Fiji, viz.: Beetee, Fegee, Fejee, 
Feegee, Feejee, Feeje, Fidgee, Fidge, Fidschi, Fiji, Feigee, 


Viti, Viji and Vitee 3 quite as bad as the countless ways of 
transliterating Russian. 

The island-peppered appearance of the map is also decep- 
tive. Even from a plane the human eye seldom gets any such 
effect in the South Seas. Islands apparently cheek by jowl 
actually lie far out of eyeshot of one another. Nor do maps 
show their great variety. The only sound generalization about 
South Sea islands is that all, without exception, are surrounded 
by salt water. And the human variety is as great as the topo- 
graphical, including not only Tahitian houris but the sulky 
cannibals of the New Hebrides; not only airy and healthy 
Hawaii but the disease-ridden Solomons; not only the brown 
Polynesians of legend, but big and little dark peoples of ob- 
scure origin, with recent sprinklings of both Caucasoids and 
Mongoloids. A marine battling malaria and jungle-rot on 
Bougainville was just as much "in the South Seas" as if he had 
been sporting with Rarahu in the shade by Loti's pool, Much 
of New Caledonia and Fiji look not at all like the movies, but 
a great deal like Texas or Wyoming. 

South Sea Islands can be classified, but application on the 
spot can be difficult. Weston Martyr's bilious approach is a 
good beginning: 

South Sea Islands are all the same, except that some are high 
and some low. The low islands are coral atolls, very pretty to 
look at from a distance. They can always be counted on to 
provide bad water, bad food, bad mosquitoes, bad smells, 
dangerous navigation, boredom, and coconuts. On the high 
islands there is better water, more to eat, and more disease, 

The Wandering Years, 103. 

Generally, all the islands are somehow volcanic. Though fasci- 
nating in themselves, the slow processes by which, according 
to one or another hypothesis, the islands achieved their present 
shape are of small concern to the traveler, but the distinction 
between atoll and high island is fundamental. An atoll is a ring 
of coral built up hardly above sealevel by coral polyps, en- 
closing a wholly or partly imprisoned shallow salt lagoon -a 
Thomas Williams, Fiji and the Fi/ians, L 


sort of calcareous dimple awash inside and out Its soil is poor- 
ish to poor, but it can support certain vegetation, particularly 
pandanus and coco palms. The whole ring may be dry land, or 
sporadic islets may rise from the water in a sort of necklace 
with a submerged reef for a string. Surf smashes away at the 
seabeach, while the lagoonbeach gets only unaggressive ripples. 

The "uplifted coral" variation is a picturesque affair in some 
cases, but in others, as in Tongatabu ( Tonga ), desperately 
dull. Here the coral platform and wall of the atoll have been 
heaved above sealevel, sometimes making a saucered plateau. 
Breakers gnaw at its edges, undercutting the seaward cliff until, 
in smaller versions, such an island looks like an old-time green 
Pullman hassock resting on a mirror. The smallest of them 
become stemmed and capped like a mushroom and eventually 
break off. Tropical rains may wear gullies inland and leave 
knolls in the coral limestone, very sharply "dissected" as geol- 
ogists say. Any marine who fought on Bloody Nose Ridge on 
Peleliu (Palaus) can tell you what good defensive country 
these limestone knobs are in a stubborn enemy's hands. A 
further rise of the seaor sinking of the landmay flood the 
gullies, making dark, calm creeks among lush islets. 

High islands are the exposed summits of submerged vol- 
canoes or conglomerations of volcanoes, often becoming fan- 
tastically craggy at the top as crater walls break down and 
lighter ash and cinders wash away from the solid basalt cores. 
The fairy tale beauty of Tahiti, Bora Bora (Societies) and 
Rarotonga (Cooks) came about in that fashion. It is very hard 
to believe in the reality of the Tahitian peak called the Di- 
ad&nrie, which looks for all the world like a somewhat disorgan- 
ized crown roast of beef. The windward side of such an island, 
benefiting from cloud condensation on the peaks, is usually 
well-watered, the leeward side correspondingly dry. People can 
do well on such islands, their lives usually concentrated on 
beaches, protected by surrounding coral reef from the great 
ocean rollers. In the larger islands of Melanesia, however, there 
developed hill populations too, differing in various ways from 
the beach dwellers. 


Since coral polyps like their water good and salt, the mouth 
of a fresh-water stream usually means a gap in the reef op- 
posite, and hence a middling-to-good small harbor for shallow- 
draft vessels. Honolulu, Papeete (Tahiti), Apia (Samoa) are 
examples. But all high islands are not so hospitable. Reefless, 
steep-to Pitcairn's has practically nothing to recommend it 
from the seaman's point of view, which is why the mutineers 
of the "Bounty'* chose it for their hideaway. Since volcanoes 
and water behave much the same way the world over, this type 
of island, with promontories like prostrate camels and sharp- 
spined, elaborately buttressed mountains in the background, 
can be seen almost anywhere where plutonic forces have been 
at work near the sea in the West Indies, the Aleutians, the 
Mediterranean. Atolls, however, develop only in waters warm 
enough for coral. 

High in the South Seas can mean very high. The Big Island 
(Hawaii proper) rises 32,000 feet from the ocean floor, its 
upper 14,000 feet majestically above water in a saddled sum- 
mit. But, in illustration of South Seas exceptions, Hawaii is 
not characteristic. The special volcanic habits of Mauna Kca 
and Mauna Loa, sister culminations of the great peak, make 
for colossal oozings of lava, not conebuilding in the grand 
manner. As a result Hawaii is a great flattish hump, most un- 
like Rarotonga. The presence of the world's greatest active vol- 
canic craters on Hawaii is also noncharacteristic. That smoking 
mountain on the backdrop, favorite clich^ of the movie- or 
stage-designer, is rather rare in the South Seas. Smoking peaks, 
some rising straight from the sea like hell-blackened boils, do 
persist in the northern Marianas, the New Hebrides, New Zea- 
land, the Solomons, Tonga and Samoa. But the principal 
Pacific points of volcanic activity lie outside our area, in the 
Dutch East Indies, the Philippines, Japan, Alaska, and on the 
western coast of South and Central America. The typical South 
Seas volcano is content to lie quiescent while rain and wind 
carve its profile. 

People who have never been out that way usually picture a 
South Sea Island as a cozy little scrap of land about as exten- 


sive as the average golf course. True, many are not much larger. 
One of the most enticing is Aguigan, lying off Tinian (Mari- 
anas) a tiny, terraced jewel designed in symmetrical setbacks 
of weathered crag, green as a bed of moss and accessible at only 
one chancy point on its western end; elsewhere the surf leaps 
with sinister enthusiasm at every inch of cliff. But it would take 
several days to walk round the ioo-mile perimeter of Guam 
even if the roads were better. Both Hawaii and Viti Levu 
(Fiji) are rather larger than Connecticut as well as notably 
more habitable, while the Solomons and New Hebrides add up 
to really considerable accumulations of dry land. New Cale- 
donia would stretch from New York to beyond Washington, 

Even atolls can be built on a generous scale. The dog-legged 
length of Kwajalein (Marshalls) lagoon is close to eighty miles; 
Truk (Carolines) lagoon contains 1500 square miles of reef- 
guarded and island-studded water, deep enough to have been 
suspected all through the war of being a principal Japanese 
naval base. Until planes appeared many a South Sea Island 
had never been seen in entirety by the human eye. Some may 
never be so seen. 

The plane does much to enhance the reputation of the 
South Seas for beauty. Unimaginative mariners first viewing 
Tahiti or Nukahiva (Marquesas) from the crosstrees would 
descend and write ecstatic descriptions that sounded as if they 
had just met Aphrodite in person. If they had seen a typical 
atoll from 8,000 feet, they would have been babbling still. It 
lies there like something painted in the moving sea, clean-cut 
as an apple paring, weltering in surrounding color as if it were 
bleeding pigment into the water, water that is royal blue in the 
offing, abruptly darker all round the island, and then shrill 
green just off the beach. The interior lagoon is splotched with 
copper sulphate and squash-yellow and moth-wing purple 
where coral lies wide and close to the surface. Surf and vegeta- 
tion on the narrow land contribute a lathery white and a green- 
ish-brown. Conventional accounts of color in natural objects, 
such as rock scenery in the western States, are usually rhetorical 


lies confirmed only by cheap inks on picture post cards. Here 
the rhapsodizer is in no danger of overplaying, for a Pacific 
atoll from the air is the quintessence of innocent and gracious 
gaudiness. Naturally there would be pearls and bright fish in 
such a lagoon, dancing, singing, and beauty ashore. The con- 
clusion is inevitable, though by no means necessarily sound. 

Planes do disservice, however, in dulling the impact of Pacific 
distances. Johnston Island does not seem so hell-and-gone 
when you drop down on it four hours from Hawaii. To get the 
point one should have made the trip three generations ago the 
other way, in a schooner against the trades for seven hundred 
weary miles of empty water. The plane passenger has no ac- 
quaintance with the personality of the Pacific when he knows 
her only as moir6 silk floorcloth flecked with soapsuds some 
indeterminate thousands of feet below. It is rather like trying 
to consummate a marriage by television. 

For westerners climate is the special attraction of the South 
Seas, and means semi-nakedness, tropical fruits, indolence. 
The Maori in New Zealand and the Hawaiian are the only 
Islanders who ever see snow, and the Hawaiian can touch it 
only if he climbs the upper slopes of Maui and the Big Island. 
Within that limit, temperatures here and there range from 
reasonably cool nights to Turkish bath conditions. The sun 
brutally predominates. Its glare on a coral sand beach is as 
cruel as that on a snowfield, suggesting dark glasses or the 
native's ingenious equivalent of a slitted shade woven of palm 
leaf. The famous trade winds, though not as consistent as 
poets insist, keep tepid rivers of air running over most of the 
islands most of the year, as pleasant a thing as nature ever de- 
vised. And sun and temperature encourage vegetation which 
is as picturesque as it is useful. 

Barring New Zealand, New Caledonia, and some other odd 
bits, palms of some species do, or would, grow on all but the 
most barren rocks in the South Seas. But these simple saurians 
of the vegetable world do not predominate on high islands, 
which tend to develop dense scrub given to thorns, or heavy 
hardwood forest turning, as you near the equator, into lofty, 


lightless, dripping jungle, full of writhing vines and huge pale- 
trunked trees with bony root-buttresses flanging out yards 
wide. What with lichen-splotched trunks and weird habits of 
growth, two out of three island trees look to western eyes as if 
they were diseased. It is easy to understand why South Sea 
peoples were shy of such forests, peopling them with the ghosts 
of the maleficent dead and the less benevolent of their minor 
gods. Too great an accumulation of such growth is definitely 
depressing as you coast along its broody monotony, particularly 
in Melanesia. The best description was written about New Ire- 
land by a man who had never seen the Pacific: 

. . . two long islands of a greasy green, a rheumatic green ... a 
narrow strip of sand only a few yards wide, beyond which noth- 
ing was visible but certain slopes, all covered, from the summit 
to the sea, with landslides of dark verdure . . . strange, rather 
gruesome, islands. Alphonse Daudet, Port-Tarascon, trans- 
lated by Henry James, 117. 

Coco palms prefer the beach or low land behind it, liking 
"to have their feet in salt water/' though they can stand height 
up to a thousand feet. Where the promontories break down to 
low foreshore and beach, the brittle flailing of the coco's 
limber arms and the clean, sandy shade among the ringed 
trunks are a palpable emotional relief light, space and air 
again. In the rising distance inland tradewind clouds are 
massed on the mountains, blocking off the sun, throwing surly 
shadows over valleys and ridges. Even sunlight often fails to 
keep South Seas heights from looking sinister; in fact, the 
higher the sun and the more intense its light, the gloomier the 
mountains are. Only the level light of early morning or early 
evening brings out the composition of the peaks and the dainty 
detail of their wooded skylines. Photography cannot convey 
these qualities. Accuracy of spirit was often greater in the 
steel engravings that illustrated our grandfathers' books. 

This chapter was revised in a room whence you can see a 
humped, furry-green volcanic hill, coco palms and, deep and far 
beyond them, the blue opaque surface of the great ocean that 


floats the Islands. I shall probably never see any of them again, 
though not for lack of wishing. I should like very much to 
land again on Tupae in a greasy copra-surfboat and walk across 
to the lagoon beach and see the young palms writhing in the 
trade wind as foreground for the faraway, preposterous, profile 
of Bora Bora, a towering splotch of dilute India ink. 

It may be just as well that return is unlikely. Nobody in his 
senses, but a Chinese and a scattering of born-to-the-life 
natives, would live on Tupae. But in other islands it would be 
conceivable and, the longer you travel among them, the more 
conceivable it seems. Wrote a lawyer, of all people: 

... it is a noticeable feature that Europeans who have made a 
lengthy stay rarely retire from the group, it is thought from 
choice as well as from force of circumstance. The islands are 
said to take hold of a man softly and so that he does not care. 
Robert Mackenzie Watson, History of Samoa, 13, 

Misunderstood People 

The man of nature, the Naturmensch, does not exist. 

Bronislaw Malinowski, "Culture/' 

Encyclopaedia of Social Sciences 




his present descendant is necessarily a "Native," a term used 
by the English-speaking world when condescending to simpler 
cultures. Originally it was innocent enough, meaning merely 
"born on the spot." The Islander too sometimes has such a 
word; "Maori/' the term applied to themselves by the Poly- 
nesians of New Zealand means much the same thing. But 
white arrogance perverted "Native." Even the French, reput- 
edly politer to subject peoples, use indigene in the Islands 
more as a patronizing noun than as an adjective. The proof of 
the poison lies in the fact that the Islander often heartily dis- 
likes hearing the word "Native" applied to himself. Thus in 
Tonga, the most self-consciously proud of Polynesian island- 
groups, brown skinned medical assistants must be called, not 
"native medical practitioners/' as elsewhere in the Pacific, but 
"Tongan medical practitioners." 

"Native" is difficult to define but profitable to mull over. 
Chinese and Japanese are seldom thus labeled. 1 Since they are 

x The exception occurs in New Caledonia, where Mongoloid laborers 
from Indo-China are sometimes lumped with the island's original 
Melanesians as indigenes for social purposes. 



quite as alien to whites as any of the darker peoples, this may 
show an uneasy sense of respect for their Asiatic home-cultures. 
Or perhaps a warm climate is essential to the word. No book- 
writing amateur ever called Ojibways or Siberians "Natives/' 
but the tourist in Mexico readily applies the word to the resi- 
dents of Taxco. I have heard the same tourist in the West 
Indies call the local negroes Natives in spite of their obviously 
recent origin in Africa. 

Nobody of European stock is ever seriously a "Native." The 
English-speaker may have small use for Italians or Serbs, who 
may strike him as excitable, dirty and of dubious morality. But 
behind them he feels longstanding accomplishment in terms 
that might be consonant with his terms. Color as such cannot 
be significant: many a Scot or Spaniard is as swarthy as many 
a Polynesian, yet neither is a "Native" at home. 2 

Positively, the meaning of "Native" can be approximated. It 
means: Darker. Productive of quaint handicrafts. Given to div- 
ing after coins thrown from a ship's rail. Greedy for beads, red 
calico, silk hats and alcoholic drinks. Suspect of cannibalism. 
Addicted to drumbeating and lewd dancing. More or less 
naked. Sporadically treacherous. Probably polygynous and 
simultaneously promiscuous. Picturesque. Comic when trying 
to speak English or otherwise ape white ways. Or, to define by 
example: a "Native" is what Robinson Crusoe feared had made 
that footprint. When he turned up, Friday was a "Native" 
right enough; so was Melville's Queequeg; so was Tondelcyo, 
who made "mammy palaver" temporarily part of the Amer- 
ican language. The "Natives" are badly spoiled . . . the 
"Natives" are dying out . . . the "Native" dances arc won- 
derful, but you have to get away from towns to see the real 

a On the other hand, I have occasionally heard a British voice, usually 
newly arrived, call South Sea Islanders "niggers." Americans in the 
Islands are seldom guilty of such bad taste, but cannot plurne them- 
selves on it. The American's special situation at home, a national dis- 
grace, makes him sensitively careful about misapplying so explosive a 
word. During the recent war in New Zealand an occasional drunken GI 
got into trouble by trying to shove Maoris off the sidewalk as "niggers," 
It is necessary to explain to New Zealanders that such men were 
probably from the South and knew no better. 


thing ... he 'Vent Native" , . . the "Native" women 
aren't so much, but the "Native" babies are the cutest little 
things you ever saw. . . . 

There is in all this an eagerness to regard one's fellow-men 
as handsomely or grotesquely feral creatures for exhibition in 
zoos. The concept of the white man's burden combines here 
with the essential snobbishness and parochialness of the aver- 
age tourist. It is not pretty/ 

Nor can the word be left at that. In reaction against the 
colonial or globe-trotting snob, the sentimentalist has reversed 
the onus and vested the poor devil of a "Native" with an aura 
of pure moonshine. To him anything "Native" is by definition 
morally, aesthetically or technically superior to anything non- 
"Native," however that would be defined. He shakes his head 
sadly at the privy that whites force the Native to build, not be- 
cause it spoils the view or usually defeats its sanitary purpose, 
but because it is non-"Native" not to defecate on the beach or 
in the bush. He often insists in print that, by sheer loving- 
kindness, he succeeded in making fast friends with the Natives 
and lived among them for months as one of themselves. Never 
mind if experienced and sympathetic scientists deny that such 
a psychological and physical feat is possible 4 - the Nativophile 
says he has done it and for the rest of his life preens himself 
on the accomplishment. 

Reading the resulting books infects the tourist with this atti- 
tude. Some of the consequences are grotesque. American rail- 
roads advertise Red Indian snake dances, and nice old ladies in 
Guatemala City tell you, one after another, that experts can 
actually distinguish the various tribes of Guatemalan Indians 
by the weave and coloration of their garments isn't that mar- 

3 "Kanaka" (French version Canaque) is another word which the Is- 
lander often dislikes and which the courteous white avoids. It originally 
meant "man" in Polynesian dialects; it is now used to distinguish 
natives from whites or other interlopers in Melanesian as well as Poly- 
nesian settings. The connotation is contemptuous and toplofty. 
*"Like most anthropologists, I regard with skepticism the claim of any 
European writer that he has been accepted by natives as one of them- 
selves." Raymond Firth, We the Tikopia, xi 


velous? That simple fact, as familiar as Scotch tartans, affects 
them with a rapture ordinarily reserved for the arcana of 
esoteric mysteries. Something of the same attitude underlies 
the practice of the Hawaiian white who scatters fifty or sixty 
Hawaiian words through his talk only a dozen or so are 
needed for concepts peculiar to the Islands and uses them in 
his tales of ghost armies that his aunt heard marching up 
Nuuanu Valley. He may also tell the malahine that there really 
is a great deal in old-time Hawaiian medicine, and adduce cases 
in which resort to a feahuna cured an old hapahaole wahine of 
both diabetes and erysipelas. Hawaii is the worst sinner in this 
respect, but traces of such self-conscious antics occur in the 
Pacific wherever whites have read "colorful" books about 

These habits would be merely funny if they did not often 
react damagingly on the Islander. Already prone to miscon- 
ceive the place of his island in the cosmos, the native leader 
who finds himself regarded by certain whites as a glory-trailing 
survivor of the Golden Age can develop and worse, try to 
carry out some very strange notions. He falls in with ideas 
about "Natives" which his own knowledge of tradition should 
show him are false. I have heard a famous Maori dance leader 
tell a tourist audience that the Jialca, the old Maori war dance, 
was invented to exercise and develop the warrior's muscles- 
note how every muscle in the body is affected. This was not 
only nonsense anatomically, as the ensuing dance demon- 
strated; it was also nonsense historically. This able lady, how- 
ever, had liked the sound of it when she read or heard it and 
could not resist the impulse to adopt something alien to Maori 
thinking, but comfortingly close to Western ways. 5 

The Nativophile is seldom on trickier ground than when 
admiring "Native" artifacts. Admiration is often justified for 
a piece of delicately striped Hawaiian tapa, an Ellice Islands 

5 "The savage is no scientific hygienist. The Maori was fit because of his 
mode of life; he did not think out his mode of life in order to be fit. By 
interpreting Maori social institutions in terms of this hygienic purpose, 
recent writers have gone sadly astray." Raymond Firth, Primitive Eco- 
nomics of the New Zealand Maori, 37. 


mat, a Maori greenstone mere, all beautiful objects born of 
painstaking skill which often wonderfully emphasize the quali- 
ties of the material. But, as an eminent ethnologist recently 
pointed out, 6 it is false to attribute to their makers what we 
think of as the artistic impulse. 7 The Hawaiian tapa-dyer was 
not exercising personalized creativeness in stamping that pat- 
tern or choosing those colors. She was merely repeating tradi- 
tional patterns and color schemes with timid variations. The 
same holds good for the finest Island sculpture and wood carv- 
ing. To neglect this distinction can lead to confounding a 
Diirer, who was both artist and superb craftsman, with the 
elderly lady who won first prize with her undeniably beautiful 
Fox-and-Goose quilt at the county fair. The proof lies in the 
fact that, once outside his own rigid traditions, the "Native" 
has atrocious taste. Among the white man's artifacts he almost 
invariably chooses lurid junk of far lower quality in mass, line, 
and workmanship than his own productions. Yet a white man 
does not have to be a professional designer to pick the shoddy 
from the beautiful in a collection of "Native"-made objects. 

The strangest effect of Nativophilia, however, is that it pro- 
duces fervent pleas that Native cultures be deliberately isolated 
and encouraged to idiosyncrasy. This merges into the ethnolo- 
gist's museum-complex to be treated later. But even in amateur 
form it is smotheringly full of assertions that to give Natives 
access to pants makes the world less desirable because less 
diverse. It is hard to acquit Nordhoff of sentimentalism in hav- 
ing written: 

There are certain parts of the world like our American moun- 
tains, deserts, and lonely stretches of coast which seem 
planned for the spiritual refreshment of mankind; places from 
which one carries away a new serenity and the sense of a yearn- 
ing for beauty satisfied. Ever since the days of Cook the is- 
lands of the South Sea have charmed the white man explorers, 

^Harry L. Shapiro: Art News, March, 1946 

TLeenhardt made the same point: "[the New Caledonian carver] is not 
a man with full consciousness pf his art, who consecrates himself to it 
with motives of devotion and beauty/' Gens de la grande terre, 33. 


naturalists, traders, and the rough crews of whaling vessels; the 
strange beauty of these little lands, insignificant as far as com- 
mercial exploitation is concerned, seems worthy of preserva- 
tion. And the native, paddling his outlandish canoe or loung- 
ing in picturesque attitudes before his house, is indispensable 
to the scene . . . the native must be preserved if a shadow of 
the old charm is to linger for the enjoyment of future genera- 
tions of travelers [Italics mine]. 

Faery Lands of the South Seas, 196. 

Numerous people considering the South Seas reporters, 
doctors, government officials, professional hotel men have 
told me that transpacific aviation should make it practical to 
set up swank tourist hotels on South Sea Islands, to lend 
atmosphere to which Natives acting quaintly, like Natives, will 
be essential. Fanning Island, New Caledonia, Tutuila (Sa- 
moa), Majuro (Marshalls), have all been mentioned to me in 
that context, as well as better known places like Bora Bora 
(Societies) and Kauai (Hawaii). The one comfort is that, in 
most of these places, it sometimes blows hard enough to push 
even the swankiest cabana into the lagoon. 

Or Native-preserving may be motivated by a pontifical 
jealousy for Native welfare. 8 The most curious example still 
goes on, though somewhat flawed by the recent war, on the 
small Hawaiian island of Niihau, fifteen miles off Kauai. There, 
for generations, a group of practically pure-blooded Hawaiians 
has been kept unspotted from the world by the owners of the 
island. Originally a Scots family, this group migrated to New 
Zealand where it prospered. But its sense of family solidarity, 
centering round a queenly mother, was so strong that it sold 
its holdings as too small to provide well for all the children, and 
sought more room elsewhere. In a ship bought for the purpose, 
stocked with sheep and cattle of the group's own breeding, the 
Family, as it is called, touched at Hawaii in the 'sixties on the 
way to British Columbia or, some say, Oregon. Finding North 
America not to its liking it returned to Hawaii and, for a re- 
puted $10,000 in golda generous price at the time bought 

This can make sense cf. Chapter VII on British policy in the Poly- 
nesian islands fringing Melanesia. 


Niihau from the Hawaiian Crown. There it built a mansion 
and started stock ranching, with the Hawaiians working on 
a semifeudal basis of labor-for-quitrent Again the Family did 
well and used other resources besides to establish itself as one 
of the dominating forces on Kauai, with Niihau kept on as a 
more or less profitable plaything. 

The Niihau Hawaiians were already Christianized and 
broken to adequate clothing, the only improvements that the 
Family would have desired. To keep their blood pure, their 
morals unaffected by white vices and their temperaments 
docile, these few hundred brown people have ever since been 
virtually isolated by Family ukase. Only a white superintend- 
ent and a couple of Japanese running the Family's sampan 
between Niihau and Kauai disturbed the atmosphere. Quaran- 
tine was enforced with a rigidity that could be comic only to 
the Martian onlooker. Exceptions were made only in cases that 
would have meant secession from Hawaii. Thus, school and 
health inspectors from Kauai County were grudgingly per- 
mitted. The superintendent's son could visit his father once a 
year, provided he applied for special permission each time. 
When the superintendent, the only man on Niihau allowed 
to smoke, went to Honolulu on unavoidable business some ten 
years ago, he saw trolley-cars for the first time. Phonographs 
and radios were forbidden, and a telephone to the mainland 
was never installed. An Hawaiian leaving the island for any- 
thing but grave illness requiring hospitalization could not re- 
turn if the Family disapproved his going. Church services and 
schools, though only up to fourth grade, were conducted in 
Hawaiian alone. A signal fire on a headland was the only way 
to communicate with the Family in emergencies. But the head 
of the Family went over to the kingdom once a year for a stay 
of several months, was welcomed with feudal pomp and rode 
in state in a surrey to the rambling old house. 

Hawaii has always been full of tales about how the Family 
resisted U.S. Army attempts to survey the island and com- 
plained bitterly about warplanes on manoeuvres frightening 
the sheep. Only a few intimate friends of the Family were ever 


taken across the strait. Curious outsiders always found that 
permission to visit Niihau was the one thing in Hawaii that 
could not be arranged if you knew the right people. The one 
man known to have managed it without extreme subterfuge 
and luck was the pilot of a Japanese fighterplane who made a 
forced landing on Niihau during the attack on Pearl Harbor. 
With the aid of one of the Japanese working there he terror- 
ized the island for a short while but eventually, under circum- 
stances which are already the matrix of juicy local legend, was 
erased by a large Hawaiian couple whom he had been bullying. 
The virginity of Niihau was avenged, if not restored. 9 
This arbitrary anomaly under the American flag, however 
benevolently intended, is the reductio ad absurclum of the 
native-quarantined-for-his-own-good. A variant of it, though, 
the attitude that the world is, and should be, "so full of a num- 
ber of things" can affect even presumably sage social scientists. 
Contemplating the Maori's situation in Invercargill, New Zea- 
land, where the "Native" has evidently succeeded brilliantly 
in fusing socially, economically and politically into the white 
man's society, the sociologist Duff winds up by mournfully re- 
gretting that any such adjustment took place. Though these 
Maori are unquestionably happier thus than their fellow- 
"Natives" with less complete adjustment, it somehow offends 
him to see the old ways so thoroughly wiped out. 

A mere restating turns the trick. Mankind needs a spiritual 
sanitarium; therefore certain Polynesians must adopt careers 
as therapeutic lay-figures, taking not what their culture needs 
from among the white man's ways, but doing what will solace 
the troubled white man's spirits. Or, to put it in another way, 
the world is more stimulating and attractive if the Persians do 
things differently from Western peoples; therefore Persia must 
be discouraged from selling oil to the United States and buy- 
ing back soap, Persians being quainter when dirty. 

These approaches and attitudes toward the complex of ideas 

The best sources on Niihau arc Nordhoff, Northern California . , * ; 
Bird, Six Months . . . ; Clark, Remember Pearl Harbor; and my own 
piece in Coronet, January, 1937. 


and emotions involved in the word "Native" have been gone 
into here to avoid confusion later on. Certainly an adult mind 
cannot regard the world as a freak show in which the fat lady 
must be contrasted with the living skeleton. And with that the 
capital N can be dropped. Since no better word is available, 
native will be used throughout the following. Understand it 
henceforth as meaning "Descendant of the ethnic stocks found 
in possession by the white discoverers of any given island." 


Savagery has been, for the reading public of the 
last three centuries, a reservoir of unexpected pos- 
sibilities in human nature; and the savage has had 
to adorn this or that hypothesis by becoming cruel 
or noble, licentious or chaste, cannibalistic or hu- 
mane, according to what suited the observer or the 

Bronislaw Malinowski, The Sexual Life of Sav- 
ages, 537 

I remember a ship news photographer scouting for subjects 
on a liner making port at San Francisco from the Islands. On 
the forward well deck he caught sight of our Fijian passenger 
well muscled, cocoa-brown, wearing a tweed jacket and wrap- 
around skirt with a scalloped hem, his head like a frizzy black 
basketball, bare feet apparently twenty inches long and on his 
face the standard Fijian expression of dignity mixed with 
geniality. The photographer's astonishment was so intense that 
for several seconds he made no motion toward his camera. 

"What," he demanded of the nearest bystander, "is that 
barefoot boy with cheek of tan?" 

This reaction to a first look at the most picturesque of South 


Sea Islanders was a good one. A full answer to his question 
would acquaint the reader with much that is significant about 
Islanders, for the Fijian is the nearest thing to a least common 
denominator of the Island peoples. Still, it would omit or in- 
sufficiently illustrate many a crucial detail; so we must discuss 
many other Islanders and hope to avoid both confusion and 
inaccuracy. For one reason or another, all are peoples well 
worth acquaintance. 

Of course, there is not now and never was any such thing as 
a typical "South Sea Islander/' Differences among these 
peoples' appearances and ways of doing are as numerous as re- 
semblances, although they all originally had some features in 

All South Seas peoples barring occasional albinoswere 
darker than the average among whites discovering them. All 
lacked draft animals, none knew the wheel or the propelling- 
oar. All lacked any supply of metals, though some knew of 
metal and occasionally secured a fantastically valued bit of iron 
or copper from floating wreckage. Unfamiliar with the nature 
of the stuff, however, they might try to plant a few of the white 
man's iron trade spikes to grow more of the precious things. 
All lived principally on vegetable foods and derived most of 
their scanty animal proteins from fish rather than from the 
scarcer hog, dog or rat. All wore fewer clothes than was cus- 
tomary among whites. None had developed writing, relying on 
memory for record, 10 All somehow recognized private prop- 
erty, but none knew of sole freehold in land. And in practically 
all cases the basis of government was the prestige of rank and 
traditional ways rather than formally ascertained consent of 
the governed. 

Contrasts were so striking, however, that the South Seas 
were early split in three on a basis partly geographical, partly 
racial The result naturally did not make scientific sense but 
has persisted for convenience: Polynesia (Greek for Many Is- 

w Engravcd plaques from Easter Island led some students to believe that 
a form of writing had developed there. Recent inquiry makes it un- 
likely. Cf. Peter H. Buck, Vikings of the Sunrise, 236. 


lands); Micronesia (Little Islands); Melanesia (Black Is- 
lands ) . Many Islands would just as well have fitted the whole 
area in fact, "Polynesia" was so used a hundred years ago. 
Guam (Marianas) and Babelthuap (Palaus) in the Little Is- 
lands are much larger than Rarotonga (Cooks) or Tongatabu 
(Tonga) in the Many Islands. Scattered along the fringes of 
the Black Islands are groups of probably Polynesian lighter- 
colored peoples. Also, even in the inaccurate sense in which 
the word is applied to negroes, the Melanesian is seldom 
black; rather, dark with a purplish tinge. 

And the boundaries of these divisions merge dismayingly. It 
is more tidiness than ethnic clarity that draws the line between 
the Micronesian Gilberts and the Polynesian Ellices. The east- 
ern part of Melanesian Fiji is demonstrably shot through with 
Polynesian infusion from Tonga, while the Melanesian Loyal- 
ties off New Caledonia show marked traces of Polynesian im- 
migration. These divisions, like other abstractions, are useful 
tools only when used most broadly. You cannot even say that 
Melanesia consistently differs from the others in possessing 
malaria the disease is lacking in Melanesian New Caledonia 11 
and Fiji as well as in Polynesia and Micronesia. Merely take it 
that Polynesia means the eastern half of the sprawling dia- 
mond of the South Seas; Micronesia the northeastern quad- 
rant; Melanesia the southwestern quadrant, where islands are 
bigger and the climate more depressingly tropical. A check list 
of island groups thus categorized by a recognized authority is 
appended. 12 

^Amateur speculators developed the theory that the universal presence 
of the scrubby, gnarly jaiaouh tree (a cousin of the Australian eucalypti) 
kept New Caledonia malaria-free. But this is poor ecology Fiji lacks 
niaouli and malaria too. 

12 Felix M. Keesing, Native Peoples of the Pacific World, lists as follows; 
I have supplied the more common aliases: 

Polynesians inhabited; Societies (Tahiti, Raiatea* etc, 
Hawaii (Sandwich Islands) Includes both Society and 

Samoa (Navigator Isles) Georgian groups of Cook.) 

New Zealand Ellices 

Tonga (Friendly Islands) Wallis and Home 


Such cataloguing, however, perniciously encourages a blup 
ring of perceptions. There was and still is plenty of distinction 
between the New Zealand Maori and his distant (in both 
senses) Polynesian cousins in Hawaii. Ever since Prince Lee 
Boo's time the outgoing, politic, smiling inhabitants of the 
Palaus have been temperamentally different from their Micro- 
nesian neighbors in Yap, only a few hundred miles away. In 
Melanesia cultural splinterism makes the area a miniature 
universe in itself, practically as fantastic as its larger prototype. 

It is hard for a western man to appreciate the isolation of 
any of these island peoples. When whites found him, the Is- 
lander's geographical knowledge seldom ranged over a radius 
of more than a few hundred miles from his village beach, 
practically never beyond the immediate group. (The exception 
would be the triangular intercourse in war, diplomacy and 
trade among Tonga, Fiji and Samoa. ) Only dimly did legends 
of long-ago voyages tell him that there might be other and 
different lands far away. There he lived, ringed by the horizon- 
wall, his culture gradually developing by internal momentum 
into something more and more sharply differentiated from 
that of others. The Samoan had even forgotten that he orig- 
inally came from somewhere else. But this isolation was not 
altogether a matter of salt water. Even on large Melancsian 
islands each miniature tribe might be sharply different from 
the people in the next bay sharply and most intriguingly dif- 

Much as the ethnologist deplores such an attitude, con- 
noisseurs of the topsy-turvy have wandered entranced through 
Melanesia. One tiny culture had grown so nonaggressivc that 

Tuamotu (Paumotus, Low or Melanesians inhabited: 

Dangerous Archipelago) New Hebrides 

Marquesas New Caledonia (Loyalties in- 

Easter Island (Rapa-nui) eluded) 

Micronesians inhabited: Solomons 

Gilberts (Kingsmills included) Bismarcks (New Ireland, New 

Marshalls Britain, etc.) 

Carolines (Palau included) Fiji 
Marianas (Ladrones) 


the necessary executive functions of chiefs were considered a 
degrading bore. In another women were leaders and providers 
while men were creative-minded and gossippy aesthetes. A 
third had no notion that sexual intercourse directly caused 
pregnancy a man returning from a year's absence would be 
delighted to find his wife nursing a new baby or that eating 
and nourishment are associated. Another group knew the facts 
of life but considered that, if a wife had intercourse with her 
husband within a day of entertaining a lover, the resulting 
child would be the husband's anyway. On Ugi (Solomons) it 
was customary to kill one's own children young and purchase 
children nearer adulthood from neighboring tribes, which gave 
the advantages of a family without the trouble of rearing. The 
men of Dobu, off eastern New Guinea, were so hyper-sus- 
picious that they escorted their wives when they went to 
defecate in the bush a matter in which Islanders are usually 
prudish to make sure that the trip was not a pretext for adul- 
tery. And they had so little notion of honest dealing that they 
attributed performance of a contract in good faith to the 
efficacy of magic spells worked on Party B by Party A ... 

Yet these are not deliberate travesties of human behavior 
created by a sardonic minded angel. Instead they are human 
behavior, demonstrations of how flexible human potentialities 
are. Much as the Islanders varied, they were merely exhibiting, 
as we do also, the astounding variety of institutions, emotions 
and deviations that human beings always manifest Further, 
these examples show once and for all that a society can exist 
with considerable satisfaction to its members when some of 
its key assumptions signally fail to make objective sense 
which should cheer us about our own culture. Some of what 
follows may dismay those unaccustomed to looking squarely 
at nonwhite ways of doing; but remember Surnner's testy 
dictum that anybody likely to be shocked by reading about any 
folkways, of whatever sort, had better not read about folkways 
at all. 

To repeat for emphasis: These were human beings. When 
you pricked them, they did bleed. Their talent for living often 


impressed hard-headed as well as romantic observers. The ways 
that they developed in isolation usually worked harmoniously 
and well under their peculiar circumstances. Either conde- 
scension toward or hysterical idealization of them is pointless 
bad taste. 

Yet none of them had the objectivity that you and I need in 
order to consider them intelligently. Before the whites came 7 
they were as committed to their own ways as Puritan Salem; 
probably even more so, for they lacked Salem's obscure fer- 
ments. Vestiges of this self-centered parochialism are still 
among them. Years ago American Samoa was having trouble 
with coconuts, its economic mainstay. The U.S. Navy brought 
a coconut expert down from Honolulu; he found what was 
wrong, and explained cause and cure to a great meeting of 
local chiefs. A high talking-chief responded for several quarters 
of an hour in the prolix, stately tradition of Samoan eloquence, 
devoted to conventionalities, reserving significance for the last 
sentence. He thanked the Navy, the Territory of Hawaii, the 
Government in Washington, the President and the good Lord 
for their kindness in sending this great and wise man to help 
them, promised that the event would be recorded to all eternity 
in song and dance among the Samoans, and so forth and so on 
and so forth . . . He said that no Samoan would dream of 
doubting the great and wise man's ideas of coconut culture. 
"But," he finished, "in Samoa we don't handle coconuts that 

Every culture likes its own way best. The Islander, with so 
little opportunity to know that other people's notions could 
differ from his, was particularly set in his ways. 

. , . neither noble savages nor inhuman brutes, but men, 
Tawney, preface to Raymond Firth, Primitive Economics of 
the New Zealand Maori, xvii 

What the Islanders were like before whites came pestering 
them is not easy to make out. Evidence from early explorers is 


fragmentary, and usually from untrained observers. Evidence 
from early missionaries is distorted by pious sensibilities and 
the need for lively propaganda to attract funds from home 
congregations. Later evidence, though useful, is flawed by the 
fact that many details altered subtly or grossly from the very 
beginning of white contact. Evidence from present day natives 
is warped by their understandable tendency to romanticize 
their ancestors in reaction to white arrogance. Besides, Amer- 
icanizing trends in Hawaii, Anglicizing trends in Fiji, Frenchi- 
fying trends in Tahiti, necessarily produced confusing results. 
Everywhere the white's physical, social and emotional poisons 
poisons only to the native, like a blood transfusion from an 
incompatible donor affected the native variously, depending 
on whether missionary, whaler or official had the upper hand. 
So it will be well to remember that from here on there is at 
least one glaring exception to every statement made. 

Physically, except for more or less skin pigmentation, Is- 
landers have varied about as much as mankind in general. 
Some Melanesians run short and most have mashed-in faces 
and heavy brows, but others are taller, with aquiline profiles. 
Frizzy hair and smallish eyes give them notions of personal 
beauty at variance with ours Malinowski's friends in the 
Trobriands regretfully let him know that they found whites' 
large eyes, prominent noses, and lank hair, most unattractive. 
The GI was baffled enough by his first Polynesian beauties, 
but it was nothing to his feeling when, shovelled ashore in 
Melanesia, he was shown a local woman, dark, stringy, pendu- 
lous-breasted, as a "real South Sea Islander." 

Micronesians varied from the shortish, stocky, red-brown 
Palau to the long-vanished Chamorro type that the Spaniards 
found on Guam, tall, heavily muscled and richly dark of skin. 
In general the Micronesian looks more clearly Mongoloid than 
do the others. 

Polynesians, the South Sea Islanders of cheap legend, are 
quite light enough to tan. A Samoan who customarily wears a 
shirt shows a V of sunburn at the throat when he strips. Light- 
ness of color was attractive in Polynesia, so aristocratic or 


vainer women kept out of the sun as much as possible. The 
modern Hawaiian still cannot understand why white men and 
women at Waikiki insist on burning themselves as black as 
possible. The contrast between the commoner and the noble- 
women of Tahiti (Societies) the latter were periodically 
bleached in the shade of Tetiaroa islet was so marked that one 
of Wallis 7 midshipmen mistook them for members of a differ- 
ent race. 

Both Polynesian and Micronesian probably have much 
"white" blood, presumably sharing Caucasoid strains still pres- 
ent in India. While moving spasmodically eastward along the 
Asiatic and Pacific islands, they picked up local admixtures 
that darkened skins, thickened lips and sometimes slanted 
eyes. 13 

Nor is the Melanesian a "nigger." It shouldn't matter any- 
way, but for the record, his relationship to the African is prob- 
ably almost as remote as ours. His build is also deceptive. 
Though not usually big or bulky, he has marvelous wind and 
is sturdy enough to have been the laboring mainstay of South 
Sea plantations for four generations. 

The Polynesian is husky in any terms, tending to a big- 
footed, ham-handed, heavy-muscled, fast-reflexed type that 
makes an ideal football player. The Polynesian handshake feels 
as if produced by a combination vice and boxing glove; I have 
seen a six-foot Polynesian of middle age solve an entanglement 
of the bumpers of two cars by lifting the rear of one car un- 
assisted, apparently thinking nothing of it. In apparent para- 
dox, however, the Polynesian younger man has always looked 
a trifle womanish. 'The young men at a little distance," wrote 
Mrs. Wallis of Stewart Island, "resembled very pretty girls, 
and so at first we thought them." When filming Moarza in 
Samoa, Flaherty had to revise his projected story because no 
native, old or young, had a face strong enough for the original 
plot. Gauguin noted this androgynism, as did La Farge: 

w ". . . the Polynesian race originated from a tri-racial mixture of some 
sort of white or Caucasoid stock with Melanesian-Negroid and Mon- 
goloid elements-" Hooton, Apes, Men and Morons, 144. 


". . . the girl form passes into the young man's . . . with- 
out a break/ 7 The impression may arise partly from body hair- 
lessness whites are the world's hairiest people the melting 
Polynesian eye, and the great grace with which all Polynesians, 
men included, handle themselves. 

Throughout the Islands aristocrats usually run larger than 
the local average; this difference in size helped early visitors 
form their theory that chief and commoner were of different 
breeds. Chiefs could be gigantic. A towering, fat, but powerful 
arii 14 (or alii or a r ii or ariJh", depending on the particular Poly- 
nesian dialect) might weigh 400 pounds. His sister ran simi- 
larly to tallow, well over six feet, weighing in the same division, 
with arms like tapered watermelons and breasts like basket- 
balls. Fat was honorific beauty. Lucatt, the early Tahitian 
merchant, felt distressed when a slender high chieftainess was 
prepared for marriage by being sent to Tetiaroa to gorge for 
months and return deliciously hog-fat. James Jarvis described 
the early Hawaiian chief tainesses: 

". . . their flesh hung in deep folds about them; their walk was 
a majestic stagger; but their carriage was lofty and betokened 
an innate pride of birth and rank." 

History of the Hawaiian Islands, 46 

One such giantess broke the cabin sofa in Kotzebue's ship 
merely by sitting down on it; she wore seaman's boots and her 
ankle was eighteen inches round. But this was not fat without 
strength. A Tahitian great lady picked up the ailing Wallis 
bodily and "lifted him like an infant over such wet and dirty 
places as they came to in their way/ 7 Another Tahitian high 
chieftainess personally stole the ship's anvil from the Spanish 
"Aguila" in 1772. So, when you read of a white man enjoying 
the favors of an Island "queen/ 7 his bedfellow was probably 
not at all the slim brown enchantress you have in mind. It 
must have been like having an affair with a lady whale in full 

This upper-class hugeness, probably hereditary because of 

"This term identifies the top ranks of Polynesian societies. 


class inbreeding, is sometimes attributed to special diet for 
upper-class children assisted by incessant massage, at which 
Islanders are very skilful. It still survives here and there. When 
two Tongan princes recently announced their intention of 
each marrying a Tongan noble girl, a local white man declared, 
after hasty calculation, that the double marriage would add up 
to just under half a short ton. Fat is still attractive in Poly- 
nesia: Beaglehole reports of Vavau (Tonga) : 

"The average village man's idea of a woman who is beautiful 
emphasizes . . . that she should be fat in every part of her 
body ... a woman . . . whose buttocks and feet are small 
is looked upon with small favor by the idealists/' Pangai, 85 

Polynesian women have not lived up to Hollywood in other 
respects. A flat, broad, nose was often considered a mark of 
beauty, so mothers solicitously mashed children's noses to suit. 
Heavy tattooing, ritually important and sometimes piquant, 
gave in extreme forms a somewhat long-underwearish effect. 
Shapeliness of breasts seldom survived motherhood in Samoa 
because children were allowed to hang on the breast while 
suckling, a stretching process that might go so far that the 
mother could throw the breast over her shoulder and let the 
child nurse from behind. Today even the smaller specimens 
of Polynesian womanhood show that their ancestresses must 
have been on the heavy-set side, with thick ankles and ill- 
defined waists. 

Variations in average good looks seem to have been marked 
for, though Hawaii was never noted for pretty girls, those of 
Samoa, the Marquesas and Tonga were severally advanced as 
superlative. The writer's own impression is that today the 
average is higher in Micronesia than anywhere else. 

How to account for the legend of South Seas beauty is not 
too puzzling. A French Navy officer disappointed in the sirens 
of Tahiti in the 'seventies put his finger on it: 

"Poets have sung the Tahitian girl whom they never met 
Navigators celebrated her. After a long voyage, that is excus- 
able/ 7 Henri Rivi&re, Souvenirs de la Nouvelle-Cal^donie, 50 


This tradition was founded by very dubious witnesses, seafar- 
ing men with their judgment warped by six months or a year 
of seeing no women at all. Or, if they had touched at Patagonia 
or Tasmania on the way out, the last women they saw would 
have been those acknowledged to have been the most spectral 
hags on earth. Bear in mind also that seamen are notorious 
liars when recounting adventures, and that the eighteenth 
century's ideas of beauty were not ours, at least below the neck. 
Hardbitten Benjamin Morrell, sealing- and sandalwood- 
skipper, drew the bow very long indeed when celebrating 
"Young William's Group" (probably somewhere in the 
middle Carolines) : 

"The chief's wife then gave me a little garland of wild flowers; 
and as if this had been a preconcerted signal, two lovely fe- 
males, naked as they were born, darted from a neighboring 
thicket, each with a similar token of affection, which they of- 
fered me with the most bewitching grace conceivable. Heaven 
forgive me, if my wicked heart did violence to any one precept 
of the decalogue! These girls were about sixteen or seventeen, 
with eyes like the gazelle's, teeth like ivory, and the most deli- 
cately formed features I have ever met with. In stature they 
were about five feet, with small hands, feet and head, long 
black hair, and then those eyes, sparkling like jet beads swim- 
ming in liquid enamel! They had small plump cheeks, with a 
chin to match, the lips of just the proper thickness for affec- 
tion's kiss. Their necks were small, and I believe that I could 
have spanned either of their naked waists with both my hands. 
' Their limbs were beautifully proportioned and so were their 
busts. Imagination must complete their bewitching portraits; 
I will only add that the shade of their skin was a light copper 
color." Narrative of Four Voyages, 12. 

Such a spate of adjectives, applied even to Micronesian 
girls, who often are very delicately made, cries out for check- 
ing by visual evidence from early times. Little worthy of the 
name exists. Photography was not available. The artists whom 
explorers usually took along to record peoples and places did 
well by topography, but their drawings of natives are always 


too iiiuch influenced by examples then fashionable among 
European drawing-masters. Whatever the Tahitian model may 
have been like, she cannot have so closely resembled a Romney 
portrait of Lady Hamilton. The modern full-blood Samoan, 
Hawaiian, or Tongan, girl is a beauty no oftener than one ex- 
pects among wliites. Apparent exceptions almost certainly 
have a touch of white or Chinese. Grace of movement, beauty 
of eye, great charm of manner are often there. But in both 
Polynesian and Melanesian women features run coarse, tend- 
ing toward the masculine, the complementary androgynous 
touch that Gauguin noted. Moerenhout tried to attribute to 
arduous labor the fact that the part-white women of Pitcairn's 
were "un peu honimasse"; but the same is true of those in is* 
lands where neither sex toils unduly. 

Older men in Polynesia and Micronesia, however, make 
good on the brilliant good looks popularly associated with the 
South Seas. A Sanioan chief with broad, plump, shoulders, 
cropped gray head, crisp mustache and an air of genial and 
self-respecting dignity is as fine looking a human being as ex- 
ists. The effect is of a very distinguished European tinted light 
brown; his juniors of equal rank, pushing middle age, present 
a most diverting variety of recognizable white types. I have 
occupied myself during the prolonged speeches of a Samoan 
Icava ceremony by identifying famous faces in the chiefs sit- 
ting at their posts in the circle: Roscoe Turner, James F. 
Byrnes, Gifford Pinchot, J. A. Krug, Admiral Byrd, the late 
Senator Penrose. In a gathering of Fijians I have met both 
Dante and Professor Einstein, the latter bewilderingly to the 

In many ways the Fijian is the most satisfactory Islander to 
look at. He must certainly have been so in the old days. His 
wife, not bad-looking when young as looks go in the Islands, 
then wore only a fringe of dried vegetation, long or short ac- 
cording to age. He wore somewhat less, but for ceremonies 
decked himself out in garlands and necklaces of whale teeth 
sawed into clawlike segments. Extravagant heads of hair were 
the pride of both their hearts. A high chief with a skilled hair- 


dresser would have a coiffure three feet in diameter singed off 
so neatly that it looked like a coverless medicine-ball. Dyes of 
various colors originating in the bleaching effect of lime used 
to discourage liceturned the whole mass strawberry blond, 
or henna red, or black and white in streaks and stripes. Mis- 
sion influence repressed the wilder of these coiffures and the 
fantastic beards attached; but today you can still see a Fijian 
bicycling down the road with his flaring red thatch in gratify- 
ing contrast to his rich brown skin. 15 

The simple and natural life of the islander beguiles me; I am 
at home with him; all the rites of savagedom find a responsive 
echo in my heart; it is as though I remembered something 
long forgotten; it is like a dream dimly remembered and at last 
realized; it must be that the untamed spirit of some savage 
ancestor quickens my blood. Stoddard, Summer Cruising in 
the South Seas. 

Nobody is sure how the Melanesians got to their muggy, 
lovely, jungle-heavy islands that lie like a crescent of shaggy 
outworks to protect the long coasts of Australia. To rehearse 
scientific speculation on the subject would be tedious. But 
things are clearer with the Micronesians and Polynesians on 
the spattering of smaller islands farther out. 

Our elders formed romantic speculations about these settle- 
ments. Accidental resemblances in a few words and details of 
custom prompted some to identify the brown Islanders with 
the lost tribes of Israel, those peripatetic hardy perennials. 
Misguided geology led others to assume a huge Pacific con- 
tinent that gradually sank, leaving the Islanders surviving on 
isolated peaks. Moonshining with a theosophical tinge made 
them vestigial remnants of a former world-wide culture. But 
by now responsible opinion is well agreed that they got out 
there much as our ancestors got from Europe to America by 

"The military authorities ordered close clips for the heads of Fijian 
soldiers, which produced a temporary fashion of disapproving the old- 
time huge-headedness. By now, I am gratified to remark, heads of hair 
are coming back in Fiii 


sea. So far as known the details are quite as intriguing as any 
lost continent of Mu. 

Perhaps 2,000 years ago their progenitors left the fringe of 
large islands along southeastern Asia and, perhaps pushed from 
behind by Melanesians or Indonesians, struck out for more 
peaceful dwelling places. They took to sea in gigantic canoes, 
with freeboard built up by adz-dubbed plank bored along the 
edges and lashed together with coconut fibre (sinnet). Some 
carried traditional South Sea outriggers against capsizing; the 
more spectacular were two-hulled, with deckhouses on the 
connecting spars amidships. They had sails of matting and 
paddles worked by crews of as many as a hundred men; special- 
ists bailed, trimmed the sails, coxed, and so forth. In skilled 
hands such craft were thoroughly seaworthy 18 and these men 
were stunning seamen, else they could never have populated 
the islands. Since any vessel that combines speed with sea- 
worthiness is beautiful, they must have made a splendid sight 
when under way. The early explorers left exhilarating descrip- 
tions of deep-sea war canoes on parade, the leader dancing on 
deck and calling time, twenty paddles a side slashing the water 
with the precision of a Rockette chorus, the crew's throbbing 
song punctuated by the regular whack of recovered paddle 
blades on the gunwale. 

The mere map of the Pacific honors both craft and men. 
Raiatea (Societies), Savaii (Samoa), Rarotonga (Cooks) are 
suggested secondary swarming points whence, as centuries 
passed, fresh expeditions colonized still more distant scraps of 
land. It is 2,700 miles, broken by only a few hard-to-find atolls, 
from Raiatea to Hawaii; 2,500 from Raiatea to New Zealand; 
2,600 from Samoa to Hawaii. From the presence in Polynesia 
of the sweet potato (Icumara in Maori) ethnology argues that 
the Polynesians also made the west coast of South America, bo- 
tanical home of that plant. Last year, however, a Danish party 
succeeded in reaching the Tuamotu from Peru on an old 

w ln 1935 de Bisschop, a French amateur sailor, built such a vessel in 
Honolulu and, with a crew of one, took her under sail alone to France 
via the Cape of Good Hope. Cf. Eric de Bisschop, Kaimiloa. 


Peruvian-style balsawood raft under sail, which suggests that 
the contact may have gone the other way. In any case, contact 
between Polynesia and America was slight. 

These Polynesian navigators had neither compass nor sex- 
tant, and their assignment was much more difficult than that 
of the similarly ill-equipped Vikings who made North America 
with easy stages at Iceland and Greenland. Knowledge of how 
and why they launched on these thousands of miles of naked 
water comes from surmise skilfully applied to old charts, gene- 
alogies, and customs. It is known that they were provisioned 
with coconuts for both drink and food and, where tabu per- 
mitted, with green stuff that would last a while, coconut-fed 
chickens, prepared breadfruit and taro. They could catch fish 
and seabirds en route. Such resources, eked out by rain water 
on occasion, will take determined men a long way; in 1861 a 
native of Rakahanga survived eight weeks in a small double 
canoe blown off its course, finally coining ashore in the Ellices 
1,500 miles away. 

They steered by the stars, which they knew uncannily well, 
by the steady trade winds and the trend of the swells. Mi- 
grating birds gave them hints of faraway islands; the golden 
plover, a poetic-sounding fowl with a poetic function, played 
such a role. The long-tailed cuckoo probably showed the way 
to New Zealand. For shorter-range bearings the canoes might 
carry land-homing birds to be released experimentally like 
Noah's dove. These seamen could pick up the scent of land 
far out at sea; they watched for cloud masses forming over in- 
visible high islands and for the confused waters that develop 
to right and left as the swells check and bend against an un- 
discovered shore. The picture of what was practical is so in- 
geniously brilliant that it is a pity some Polynesianophiles 
occasionally belittle the old navigators' achievements by ascrib- 
ing to them psychic powers. 17 

17 Harold Gatty, The Raft Boofc, written by the famous flier who is an 
expert on Pacific navigation, standard equipment on life rafts during 
the recent war, leaves no room for skepticism about Polynesian naviga- 


As to why the Polynesians went colonizing, the causes were 
probably overpopulation of islands already settled, squabbles 
between chiefs with the weaker party migrating, a warrior's 
general sense of adventure. Americans should not need ex- 
planation for the explorer-pioneer's impulses. Like our pio- 
neers, they took along the germs of livelihood roots, seeds, 
food animals to make the new home like the old one. The 
practical omnipresence in the Islands of coconut, breadfruit, 
taro, sugar cane, sweet potato, yam, ti, banana, fcava, paper 
mulberry (for bark cloth, i.e. tapa or siapo), means they were 
intentionally imported. The same holds good for fowls, hogs, 
dogs and rats for meat supply. 

The sea seemed to bring out the best in the brown Islanders. 
In their ships they probably reached the acme of their skill in 
construction. Even the semi-Melanesian Fijian, a timid deep- 
water sailor when whites first saw him, made splendid deep- 
sea canoes for which the Polynesians of nearby Tonga eagerly 
bartered women and military service. They had room for up 
to 200 men and could knock off close to twenty knots under 
a triangular matting-sail as big as the main-topsail of a full- 
rigged ship; or so seamen who saw them swore. English navi- 
gators came home from the Marianas with eye-popping tales 
of asymmetrical sailing canoes that would make similar speed; 
Woodes Rogers took one home with him to England to 
demonstrate. The Solomon Islander's stately war canoe, its 
soaring black prow studded with inlaid pearl shell, was just as 
beautiful as the Maori's equivalent, which had the loveliest 
of cunningly spiraled fretwork in stem-covering and lofty stern- 
piece. The largest of these, hewn with stone tools out of a log 
so big that only one added strake of freeboard was needed, ran 
no feet without the ornamental bow- and stern-pieces. 

This patience and skill were also expressed elsewhere. The 
Fijian was engineer enough to build a thirteen-span wooden 
bridge over the Rewa River; he also dug a canal to shorten the 
trip from Bau to the Rewa mouth. Everywhere the islands 
developed elaborate irrigation systems for wet taro, and to this 
day the stranger marvels at the relics of the old-time New 


Caledonian's terracing of whole mountainsides in projects half 
a mile long and hundreds of feet high. The Samoan house, a 
great oval basket upside down on posts, light and sturdy 
enough to be moved bodily on occasion, is often thatched with 
leaves that make it look crude and shaggy outside; but look 
aloft inside and the eye never wearies of the fascinating struc- 
tural beauty of its ribbing and bracing, not a nail in the job, all 
lashed together with intricate patterns of varicolored sinnet. 
There is equal fascination in the smashing black-red-and-white 
designs on the rafters of the Maori's meeting house and in the 
grave harmonies, apparently as simple as tittattoe, of the tufeu- 
tuku panels on the walls. 

But such architecture was not necessarily functional. The 
windowless Hawaiian grasshouse, with a door so low that the 
tenant crawled in, was damp, insect-ridden, and stuffy. Even 
the Samoan house had grave drawbacks. It did not keep out 
insects, a real health hazard in filariasis-ridden Samoa; it was 
not hurricane-proof; its pebble floor, though dry enough, 
caught bits of food impossible to clean out; it precluded 
privacy among its dwellers. The New Caledonian was probably 
worst off, in a beehive-shaped affair with only a low curtained 
door and a smudge burning all night to discourage mosquitoes. 
In any case, it was all flimsy stuff. There are no ruins of South 
Sea chiefs' mansions. Only temples, tombs and foundations 
were made of things that did not need renewing every few 
years. 18 So a South Seas village, in Cook's time or our own, has 
a flavor of permanent camping out, a charming Hooverville- 

Island diet was foreshadowed in the things that the mi- 
grating Polynesian took with him. On the poorest atolls he ate 
little but fish he always had to be a crack fisherman pan- 
danus, and coconut for drink when green, for food when ripe. 
On high or uplifted islands, where humus made richer soil, 
he did a great deal with taro, the starchy root of a plant akin 

will stand until scientists finally make up their minds what was 
the purpose of the accumulations of stone-capped pillars on Guam and 
Tinian and the why of the cyclopean masonry in* the Carolines. 


to Jack-in-the-pulpit Old Hawaii figured that a forty by forty 
foot taro patch would feed a man for a year. Baked or boiled, 
it is fair eating for a hungry man; fancied up it is very good. 
Cooked, pounded, and fermented, it is familiar to tourists in 
Hawaii as poi, which those who like it like very much indeed. 
Modern nutritionists find it rich in high-quality food values- 
Hawaii exports it in cans to California as baby food. 

Breadfruit was seasonally generous too. An acre of these 
beautiful, middle-sized trees with deeply cut leaves would feed 
a dozen persons eight or ten months of the year. This was the 
item that convinced explorers they had found the earthly para- 
dise. Enormous balls of practically ready-made food apparently 
growing without cultivation startled the descendants of white 
men who had always toilsomely dug their daily bread out of 
cold and stubborn dirt. "Where all partake the earth without 
dispute/' sang Lord Byron, "and bread itself is gathered as a 
fruit." The talented noble lord had been tripped up, like 
many after him, by the misnomer applied by discoverers. When 
cooked it is never eaten raw the stuff is not at all like bread, 
rather like a huge, waxy piece of roast chestnut with a slight 
raisinish flavor. Most whites like it much better than taro. The 
Melanesian relied heavily on sago r the pith of a palm-like tree. 
Most Islands got more starch it was all high in carbohydrates 
out of yams, sweet potatoes and various varieties of bananas. 
Greens might appear as bits of seaweed, very tasty with their 
reek of salt and iodine, or as taro-tops, which are marvelous 
when cooked with cream pressed from ripe coconut 

Pig, dog or chicken was eaten in quantity only at feasts, 
great occasions when everybody gorged for days and the village 
was denuded of supplies, perhaps after collecting resources for 
the doings for three or four years. On many islands the com- 
moner went for months without meat, for hogs and dogs ate 
the same things as people and were expensive luxuries, appear- 
ing frequently only before chiefs. Great feasts were stagger- 
ingly colossal and so were the appetites of the eaters. A spread 
for "King" Cakobau of Fiji a hundred years ago took 200 
people a whole morning merely to arrange; it included seventy 


large turtles, a wall of fcava-root seven feet high and thirty-five 
feet long, and a breastwork of 35,000 yams. 

Some Melanesians had vessels in which to boil their pro- 
visions, for they were fair potters, working without the wheel, 
merely building up the clay by guess. But they also often used 
the South Seas earth oven, and Polynesia had nothing else. 19 
It was efficient enough. A deep hole was paved with large, 
heated stones and the items to be cooked were wrapped in 
leaves and put in. Then water was poured over them and all 
was covered with stones, earth and leaves to steam until done, 
much the same as in a clambake. 

The consequences on pork, fish fresh from the ocean, 
bananas, taro and suchlike could obviously be mouth-watering. 
But qualifications intrude here, too. You must think of most 
of the above as eaten cold or lukewarm, for the South Seas 
peoples do not share our notion that hot food is particularly 
tasty. Even when trying courteously to supply western-style 
food, the Islander cannot quite realize that a stone-cold fried 
egg is not as good as a hot one. Use of sea water as a dip the 
Islands usually lacked salt also cooled things off. And the 
pork was often preferred in a condition that you and I would 
find distastefully half -raw. It also sounds distressing that much 
fish was eaten raw. But actually, though it can be insanitary, 
raw fish, marinated Island-style in lime juice, eaten with coco- 
nut cream and salt-water, is a great delicacy. The Islander car- 
ried it even farther and ate small fish as caught, alive and 
wiggling. That does not sound appetizing. But reflect that 
South Sea Islanders can seldom learn to eat cheese, any more 
than you could ever stomach the New Caledonian's menu 
recorded by Lemire: roast flying fox (a huge fruit-eating bat) , 
big white grubs dug out of a rotting tree stump, and uncleaned 
pigeon guts stewed with rice. 

Except for relative lack of high-class amino acids, the Island 

^Lack of suitable clay in Polynesia is usually given as the reason for this 
technological handicap. But the Maori did not develop pottery on 
reaching New Zealand, which has good pottery clay; and I have myself 
seen rough but practical experimental pottery made of clay found in 
Tahiti by whites looking round for ideas. 


diet was good, far better than what many an Islander prefers 
to eat today. But in other aspects of physical welfare, however, 
he was not originally as well off as romance would have it in 
sanitation, for instance. Hogs and dogs had the run of the 
place, eating what they could pick up, of which there was 
usually a good deal. The village was neat, its gravel plaza 
meticulously weeded, the grass kept short, house-terraces swept 
daily, mats stacked and laid up neatly within, but by western 
standards this picture of serene tidiness was not actually clean. 
The Maori were one of the few Island peoples to develop 
efficient latrines, though in their colder climate they needed 
them less. Elsewhere defecation took place in the bush or on 
the beach below high-water mark. Presumably, vigorous tides 
carries faeces away, but even now, with whites legally requiring 
over-water latrines, that smell from the beach is not all sea- 
weed, Fiji provided a fine example of neatness combined with 
poor sanitation on the key islet of Bau where all filth was de- 
posited on top of the high central hill, whence frequent rains 
sluiced it down all over the living area. Spitting and hand- 
wrung nose-blowing went on everywhere as freely as on the 
porch of an Arkansas general store daintier people might spit 
under a lifted pebble or the corner of a mat. Clothing never 
knew the disinfectant effect of soap, which the Islands did not 
have. Besides, tapa cloth, made by pounding wet strips of 
paper-like inner barks together, disintegrated after very little 
washing. Some Melanesians had a generalized and lively horror 
of washing of any sort, but as a rule the South Sea person was 
bathed once or twice a day, in fresh water by preference. Again, 
however, soap was lacking, and the bath was followed by 
anointing with coconut oil, often rancid and sometimes per- 
fumed as an antidote with sandalwood or flower petals. 

Such matters were probably worst in New Zealand where 
the Maori, traditionally committed to oiling the skin but lack- 
ing coconut oil, used fish- and whale-oils in a state of high 
redolence. The Micronesians of Kusaie (Carolines) valued 
fishy odors and used fish oil to perfume coconut oil as a cos- 
metic. And most Islanders had verminous heads. Even the 


gods were so troubled; Rehua, a Maori deity, provided food for 
unexpected human guests with birds that fed on the vermin 
harboring in his long hair. Between friends or lovers, reciprocal 
louse-gathering, the lice eaten as found, was a useful and 
sociable custom. To judge from their eagerness for fine-tooth 
combs in trade, the Tahitians thought pediculosis a minor 
evil, and the Fijians first used tobacco as a delousing fumiga- 
tion. But the New Hebrideans valued lice as tasty bits and were 
outraged when the early Spanish explorers, thinking it a favor,, 
shaved their frowsy heads for them. 

Whence, then, the universal impression in books that the 
Islander was charmingly clean? It began with eighteenth* 
century navigators who, relatively, were correct in so testifying. 
Two centuries ago white standards of cleanliness were low at 
best: the vermin and stenches of the great towns of Europe 
would have sickened the average Polynesian. We have learned 
the rudiments of decency too recently and too imperfectly to 
afford Pharisaism. Nor did such standards as there were appeal 
to seamen who, in that day, were mostly top shy of water even 
to learn to swim as a safety measure. FoVsle Jack, pursuing a 
Maori girl reeking with fish oil, probably smelled even worse 
than she did. But it took even early seamen aback when the 
Easter Islanders were seen first to drink out of a spring and 
then, following rigid local usage, jump in and wash all over 
in the same water that the next comer would swallow. 

Still the Islander probably had less need for sanitation than 
Western man. No cleanliness would have suppressed the mos- 
quitoes that often infected him with filariasis the parasitical 
disease of the blood and lymph systems of which elephantiasis 
is the extreme form. And yaws, though fly-borne, has nothing 
directly to do with filth. His other diseases were boils and 
ulcers and fungous skin ailments that often covered him with 
scurfy scales but would probably not have been checked by 
Lifebuoy baths. Until the white man brought the germs, he 
had no contact with sputum-transmitted tuberculosis or ex- 
crement-transmitted typhoid. Nor was his sense of srnell de- 
fective. He merely did not have our ideas of what smells in- 


One of his skin diseases was sometimes said, unreliably, to 
be caused by overindulgence in Icava ('ava in some islands, 
yaqona in Fiji) the important and ceremonial South Sea drink. 
It is made from the root of a pepper shrub and traditionally 
chewed so the chewer's saliva converts part of its starch into 
sugar. 20 Then it is spit into a bowl, mixed with water, strained 
elaborately with hibiscus fibre and served in a coconut shell 
cup. This milky-chalky infusion was the social core of many 
Island societies, notably Fiji and Samoa. 21 The intricate detail 
of serving, with hand clapping, calling of special ceremonial 
names., preparation only by significant persons, dramatized the 
whole system of Samoan prestige. A slip in reciting a chief's 
Jcava-name or the wrong order in presenting the cup could 
cause bloody wars. For the white guest these ceremonies would 
probably still be dull even if he understood all the speeches 
and legendary references, but the chiefs follow the procedure 
like an audience at an absorbing play. The drink is dull too, 
tepid, remotely spicy, mildly tingling on the tongue, surely the 
least positive of all human indulgences except chewing gum. I 
have seen Jcava kept going in a dishpan for the crew below 
decks on an inter-island vessel in Fiji; in that container its 
color was dismally appropriate. 

Old South Sea hands maintain that too much fcava leaves 
the head clear but temporarily paralyzes the legs. They get 
mildly fond of it. Suva, capital of Fiji, has a Icava-saloon where 
local businessmen drop in at midmorning on the theory that 
the stuff is cooling. I have never had enough to feel either 
cooled or paralyzed, and do not know how many gallons are 
required for such effects. 

Old, large or undried roots are variously said to produce the 

s Fiji originally grated Jcava-root; later chewing was taken over from 
Tongan example. Now, with white ideas of sanitation seeping in, grat- 
ing or pounding have pretty well replaced chewing. 
21 The relative importance of Icava varied from group to group. Hawaii 
and Tahiti had it, but not very conspicuously. The Maori did without 
it, though a cousin-plant was indigenous in New Zealand. New Cale- 
donia ignored the presence of the proper plant in the bush. (Maurice 
Leenhardt, Gens de la grande terre, 88.) 


strongest brew. Personally I prefer the theory of Ratu George 
Cakobau of Fiji that, since Icava is usually drunk sitting cross- 
legged, an attitude to which white joints are not accustomed, 
the paralyzing effect would be arrived at with or without Icava 
after several hours. It seems to be an efficient diuretic and, I 
have it on good authority, is effective as a bush medicine 
remedy for gonorrhea. German drug firms used to import it 
in small quantities. The Indian in Fiji drinks it to some extent, 
but raises it principally for sale to the Fijian himself. Experi- 
ments made by GIs in mixing it with gin are said to have pro- 
duced high exhilaration. Manuia/ 

"Ah, those M'tezo! Incurable heathen! He had given them up 
long ago . . . They filed their teeth, ate their superfluous fe- 
male relations, swapped wives every new moon, and never wore 
a stitch of clothes . . . How they attached themselves to his 
heart, those black fellows! Such healthy animals! . . . And 
the Bumbulis, the Kubangos, the Mugwambas! And the Bu- 
langa . . , Really, the Bulanga were the worst of the lot. Not 
fit to be talked about. And yet, somehow or other, one could 
not help liking them . . ." 

Norman Douglas, South Wind, 44 

Nobody has explained why the Islander did not develop 
fermented drinks. He used fermentation to process both 
taro and breadfruit, so he knew of it, and even the Tasmanian, 
least developed of human beings, had a kind of eucalyptus 
beer. Island ti-root and sugar cane, both with high sugar con- 
tent, are admirable raw materials for alcohol, as the whites en- 
thusiastically discovered in no time. But even the Micronesian's 
murderous palm toddy, a spontaneous fermentation of palm 
sap, may have been the white man's idea. 

The Islander had an impressive range of vices, however, if 
"vice" consists of indulgence in noxious but enjoyable be- 
havior. Looking into the personal lives of the people of the 
Palaus ; a sociologist told me, completely cured him of notions 
about innocent savages. Such notions, always tendentious non- 


sense, need correcting but should not be over-corrected. The 
reader might compare the following with what he knows of 
the vices of his own culture. 

Tobacco was lacking when whites arrived. But betel nut 
chewing had spread into Micronesia and Melanesia from 
southeastern Asia and the blood-red spittle produced is still 
all over those regions. Betel is the nut of an insubstantially 
slender palm, and is chewed with lime and the leaf of a pepper- 
plant. Chewing it turns the lips a lurid raw-meat red and the 
teeth brownish-black, but it probably does the chewer little 
more harm than chewing of tobacco, which is no pretty habit 
either. 22 

Many Polynesians were desperate gamblers. Like the notori- 
ous Jim Smiley, they would bet anything on anything. The 
missionary's insistence on suppressing native games grew out of 
the native's inability to play without betting; a modern mission- 
ary has mourned to me over the fact that his Tahitian charges 
stay interested in healthy athletic contests only a few months 
if gambling on them is not allowed. In the old days competi- 
tion in foot racing, boxing, wrestling, surfriding, canoe racing, 
swimming, target practice with spear, bow or sling, produced 
wagers of ornaments, weapons, food supplies, and, more seri- 
ously, canoes, wives and one's personal freedom. Western 
psychiatry tends to regard feverish gambling as a presumptive 
symptom of serious maladjustment. With due qualification, 
that is worth thinking of as a possible sign of unsuspected 
strains in the presumably well-adjusted Island world. Other de- 
tails also imply that all was not altogether well in the Islander's 
much-admired character. 

Little is known about homosexuality in the prewhite days 
except that it was widespread and not greatly frowned on. The 
Polynesian's worst enemy never accused him of lacking virility; 
but virility did not rule out "queerness." The Hawaiian chiefs 

^Though the seamen lie encountered early were probably mostly to- 
baccochewers, the Islander did not take to the habit as a rule. I am 
told, however, that the upcountry Fijian occasionally mixes tobacco 
with betel. 


kept boys for purposes that horrified the missions; so did Tahi- 
tian chiefs, sending them for cosmetic bleaching along with 
the women. Youths in New Caledonia were much given to 
mutual sodomy. There was transvestism here and there. Boas, 
the great anthropologist, was of the opinion that homosexual- 
ity is a normal development among domesticated animals, such 
as cattle, sheep and men; the subject can be let go at that. 

Cannibalism is the vice if vice it be oftenest associated 
with the South Seas. Polynesianophiles deny indignantly that 
it existed in Hawaii or Tahiti and imply that it was missing 
all over Polynesia; whereas, though dead in the islands just 
named by the time whites arrived, it was extremely lively in 
New Zealand and the Marquesas, known in the Tuamotu, 
sporadic in Tonga and Samoa. In fairness, however, Melanesia 
was the focus of man-eating and, for our purposes, Fiji does 
for a sample. In the nineteenth century Fiji was notorious as 
the Cannibal Islands par excellence; in several senses Fiji is 
middle ground between Polynesia and Melanesia; and in tech- 
nical progress it probably excelled any other island group. 
Cannibalism in so advanced a setting is a striking example of 
the strange things that people insist on doing. It is specially 
striking in the Fijian, who is one of the toughest and most in- 
telligent of Islanders and certainly the most likeable as well. 

Whatever caused this taste for man-meat, it was not lack of 
animal protein in the diet. It is impossible in any case to corre- 
late this factor with intensity of cannibalism in the Islands. 
Apologetic Fijians encouraged whites to surmise that the pur- 
pose was to restrict population; or that they killed and ate 
strangers to prevent epidemics, or to keep the race genetically 
pure. Sympathetic scientists supplement these implausible 
ideas by pointing out the magico-emotional factors involved: it 
was rousing revenge to cook and eat one's fallen enemy and 
might endow the eater with the mana of the dead foe, 23 mo- 
tives that can appear wherever cannibalism does, Nevertheless, 
the Fijian seems also to have cannibalized for gastronomic 
reasons. He lited man-meat, and so would you probably, if you 
rnana, sec p. 79. 


had been reared to it. So did his distant cousins in New 
Caledonia, who had a song for opening the annual war season: 
"This is the time when men are fat/' advising warriors to kill 
only plump enemies with shiny skins. 24 

Ordinarily, however, only the aristocratic Fijian male feasted 
on bokolo (man-meat) . Great men recorded the hundreds they 
had eaten. The chief might reserve for himself the corpse of 
a specially hated enemy and take several days over it, starting 
with heart, liver or tongue; or he might smoke the liver and 
hands and hang them in his house to be nibbled at gloatingly 
whenever he fell to brooding again over the ancient wrong 
thus avenged. Whatever their rank, women never were al- 
lowed bokolo; many South Sea tabus tended to deny great 
delicacies even to women of high rank. What cut was favored 
varied widely. Lockerby thought boiled intestines most popu- 
lar, but others said that, like the Marquesans and New Cale- 
donian priests, Fijians particularly relished broiled or boiled 
hands. Whites or negroes would do for eating, though they 
were considered badly tainted with tobacco and salt. Some- 
times captured boys were castrated to fatten up like shoats 
against a great future feast. Oven-steaming or boiling was the 
usual method of cookery but raw man might not be disdained, 
as when Endicott found a Fijian buck eating a victim's brains 
out of his shattered skull as if they had been coconut meat. 

The thing sounds more gastronomic as it develops. After 
battle, slain enemies were sent to friendly villages as Lord 
Covert of Shooting-on-the-Rise might send a basket of game to 
friends in town. If the bodies grew a little high in transit, no- 
body minded. The Fijian liked fish and turtle fresh, but he 
took bokolo well-tainted without qualms. White witnesses 
saw corpses brought in for feasts so putrescent that they could 
not be picked up without falling apart and had to be made 
into puddings; the graves of the new-buried were watched for 
weeks lest neighboring villagers sneak over and exhume 
grandpa. As cannibalism goes, these details are not notably 

further backing, cf. C. G. Seligmann, The Melanesians of British 
New Guinea, 542; 548 ct seq. 


lurid: The Marquesan too might eat an enemy raw, if bagged 
too late in the day for cooking; in Dobu the female vulva, in 
New Guinea the penis split and broiled, were delicacies. 

What whites call an orgy meaning hysterical singing and 
dancing culminating in erotic excesses often went with the 
Fijian cannibal feast. But man-eating never quite degenerated 
into the straightforward gluttony of a barbecue. The meat was 
somehow tabu, unsafe to handle, so there were special cannibal- 
forks, sole recorded use of the fork in the South Seas. Still, 
when the chief felt an urge for bolcolo, he was as regardless as 
a Roman emperor ordering oysters from Britain. His retainers 
might kidnap women fishing off the reef at the next village 
for, though a woman could not eat bolcolo, she could be 
bolcolo and often was. Failing that, he ate his own people, 
starting with commoners who were in his black books. He was 
no more temperate about the revenge-aspect, for he might have 
prisoners trussed up and cooked alive. At least one pre-white 
chief cut the forearm from a living prisoner and cooked and 
ate it while the still-living victim looked on. Nice fellow as the 
Fijian now is, and apparently always was in quieter moments, 
he unquestionably leaned toward imaginative torture. A victori- 
ous war canoe would sail home with enemy children hung by 
the heels gradually braining themselves against the mast as 
the ship rolled. A recalcitrant prisoner would have his hands 
pinioned and a sheaf of dry coconut frond tied to his shoul- 
ders, and then, with the dry leaves set on fire, he would be 
turned loose to run like a screaming torch wherever his agony 

Cannibalism sometimes sounds comic to people reared on 
jokes about boiled missionary; to others it is shocking. 25 In its 
own time and place it was neither, being merely a pressure- 
releasing institution as intimately bound up with the com- 
munity as saloons were with the old-time Sierra mining camps. 
Bokolo meant hurray-for-our-side, it meant Thanksgiving 
turkey, it meant an occasion combining New Year's Eve with 

SB Stevenson said all that can be said to cushion the shock of cannibalism: 
In the Sooth Seas, 107-9. 


a burlesque show. And, as mentioned before, it had punitive 
functions too. When the Marquesans, lacking fresh enemies, 
sent the butcher's gang looking for "long pig" in their own 
valley, bad actors were usually knocked on the head first. 

Non-cannibal Polynesia used human sacrifice in the same 
way. 26 The bodies were not burned but left to rot, or sometimes 
buried after the ceremony, in the high place before the god. If 
the ceremony required more killings than there were overt bad 
actors, however, the more lowly innocent were chosen. This 
helps grimly to show how closely-knit and monolithic Island 
societies were. Not in war, but in prosperous peace, an unlucky 
individual could be called on any time to be wantonly killed for 
the good of the community. The Fijian chiefs new canoe was 
launched over rollers consisting of living men to be crushed to 
death by its weight. The principal posts of his new house were 
set in pits deep and wide enough to contain a man in addition. 
Earth was filled in over timber and living creature alike. The 
commoner never dreamed of objecting, but merely crawled 
down into his cylindrical grave and docilely embraced the post. 

So it went in the Islands. The curve of the roof one lived 
under, the post at which one sat for a ceremony,, the charm one 
said before going fishing, the social rank to which one was en- 
titled, were no less cut and dried than the requirement that, if 
chief and wizard willed it so, their men might come for you 
without warning or trial, smash the back of your skull, 
wreath you with flowers and lay you, stiff and naked, face down 
and buttocks up, where you would do the most good. 

While vices are in question it would be pleasant, but untrue, 
to record that Polynesians eschewed torture for animals as well 
as for their enemies. Hawaiians killed clean in battle or took 
prisoners for slaves; but, when collecting dogs for a feast, they 
let them lie moaning for days with muzzles tied up and forelegs 
broken and tied over their backs. When Polynesians acquired 

theorists consider that human sacrifice indicates that cannibal- 
ism was previously practiced. Thus, the Tahitians goug